18 March 2014

Emmanuel Carrère: D'autres vies que la mienne | Lives Other than My Own (2009)

Emmanuel Carrère's D'autres vies que la mienne – trans. by Linda Coverdale as Lives Other than My Own in the American and Other Lives but Mine in the English edition – is perhaps self-explanatory to anyone acquainted with Carrère's previous work: it's an attempt to move away from self-preoccupation and on to the lives of others.

This is a true story, although not exactly a linear one, which concerns itself essentially with three things – the 2004 tsunami in south-east Asia; excessive debt and two judges working in that area; and his sister-in-law's early death from cancer.

Carrère closely but indirectly experienced the effects of the tsunami when on holiday in Sri Lanka with his partner Hélène and their two sons, each by a former companion. A family staying in the same hotel lose their daughter Juliette, and the narrative reconstructs the effects of this death and others in such a way that painfully and skilfully describes large and tiny details. This section is particularly powerfully written.

When the family returns to Paris the author's sister-in-law (also Juliette) dies, leaving three daughters and a husband who is earning much less money than his judge wife. Juliette had one leg amputated, as did a her close friend Étienne, and Carrère begins the first of a number of interviews with Étienne about his life, his sympathetic (left-wing) work as a judge of victims of excessive debt, and his relationship with his colleague Juliette, who is doing similar work.

At first I couldn't see the where the tsunami fitted in, but at the end it's clear that the effects of the tsunami are to a certain extent mirrored – but in a smaller way – in the third part, which concerns the death of one person: the interest is still on the effects, the small details of tragedy.

Some critics had previously seen Carrère as something of a narcissistic writer, although I think he redeems himself in this book – parts of which are quite devastating.

Below are links to other Emmanuel Carrère books I've commented on:

Emmanuel Carrère: Un roman russe
Emmanuel Carrère: La Classe de neige
Emmanuel Carrère: La Moustache | The Mustache

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