My Life as a Russian Novel

Emmanuel Carrre turns his trademark psychologically probing third-person narrative onto himself.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Emmanuel Carrre has been known and loved for psychologically probing third-person narratives that stretch tautly and tensely through his novels, from The Moustache to The Adversary. While turning that perspective into a first-person memoir may seem as reckless as giving an alcoholic a white wine spritzer, Carrre is already pouring out the club soda and pinot grigio with the pornographically personal My Life as a Russian Novel.

The book covers a wide territory, perhaps as vast as Russia itself. Playing off the Chekhovian theme of light and dark, Carrre bounces between his high life as a member of the Parisian literati and his quixotic attempt to film the bleak town of Kotelnich—close to where Carrre himself once had family—for a documentary. He’s also researching the 1944 disappearance of his grandfather and salvaging a relationship with his pathological lover, the latter effort culminating in an erotic story published in Le Monde that he’s penned for her.

After some initial bumps, the progression from one point in the story to the next is a mostly smooth ride. Sentences alternate between the journalistic and the sensual. Moments are painted with a Monet-like brush, becoming more crystalline the further we read on. It’s tempting to devour the slim 288 pages in one sitting, but there’s a lot to digest. And while some readers may get acid reflux very quickly, we’re game for another round.

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By Emmanuel Carrre (Metropolitan Books, $25)