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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary essays

97,196 Words

Emmanuel Carrère

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To purchase 97,196 Words

Title: 97,196 Words
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 294 pages
Original in: French
Availability: 97,196 Words - US
97,196 Words - UK
97,196 Words - Canada
Il est avantageux d'avoir où aller - Canada
Il est avantageux d'avoir où aller - France

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Our Assessment:

B : engaging variety

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 9/11/2019 .
Evening Standard A 14/11/2019 William Leith
L'Express . 4/3/2016 Julien Bisson
Le Figaro . 25/2/2016 Benoît Duteurtre
The Guardian . 13/12/2019 Kathryn Hughes
Le Monde . 16/2/2016 Raphaëlle Leyris
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 22/12/2019 Robert Gottlieb
Sunday Times . 17/11/2019 Nick Rennison
World Lit. Today . Winter/2020 Arthur Willemse

  From the Reviews:
  • "What distinguishes his prose is not its lyricism -- as John Lambert’s translation conveys, it is simple and spare -- but his intrusive, philosophical first-person voice. (...) The author is everywhere. At first, this relentless self-reflection seems solipsistic and overdone -- a kind of post-modern posturing -- but the ultimate effects are subtler and deeper. (...) At bottom, he has two exceptional, but rather traditional, writerly gifts: psychological acuity and narrative tautness. And he has learned how to dress those skills in clever conceits." - The Economist

  • "When Carrère writes a story, he knows how to stir up powerful and conflicting emotions in his reader, which is one of the reasons he’s so good. (...) If you’re interested in Carrère, this book of essays is a good place to start. It’s the best book I’ve read for ages." - William Leith, Evening Standard

  • "On se plaît à y retrouver l'acuité du regard de Carrère, sa lucidité envers ses pairs comme envers lui-même. Ses convictions politiques aussi, dans une lettre ouverte à son ancien ami Renaud Camus, dont il rejette la dérive extrémiste et le parti de l'In-nocence. Son humour, lorsqu'il évoque un entretien catastrophique avec Catherine Deneuve, ou lorsque, "envoyé spécial dans le coeur des hommes", il multiplie les chroniques sentimentalo-érotiques pour un féminin italien." - Julien Bisson, L'Express

  • "At a time when “creative non-fiction” seems to have become a synonym for memoir, it is a joy to be reminded of all the wonderful things that it can do when it looks beyond individual ego. While Carrère is hardly averse to writing about himself, he is equally happy to let other people and subjects take the spotlight. (...) All this is delivered in Carrère’s spare and supple prose." - Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

  • "Here, in roughly the order of their original publication, are 20 essays (totaling 97,196 words) that reveal both the depth and the breadth of his achievement. Not that all of them are masterpieces. Carrère has done what so many self-anthologists do (I plead guilty to the same misdemeanor): He’s indulged himself by rescuing from obscurity certain stories that did not really demand rescue. (...) The abundant majority of the pieces in this book, however, are riveting, not least those that he later developed into full-scale books. (...) Carrère is masterly both at singling out the telling detail and of grasping and conveying his subject as a whole." - Robert Gottlieb, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Carrère consistently paints himself into the picture; a ploy that is his hook, his key to unlocking the truth of all his subjects. With Carrère’s immersion comes his casual tone (though the catchword “okay” comes courtesy of his translator as it corresponds to d’accord, admettons, alors, bon, and voilà) as well as the masculinity of his presence as a father and a lover always paired with the cerebral role of the writer." - Arthur Willemse, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       97,196 Words collects a variety of shorter non-fiction by Emmanuel Carrère, originally published in newspapers, magazines, and as introductions to books. The title refers to the length of the book -- but, alas, only in English: the French original is some two hundred and fifty pages longer and collects thirty-three pieces, while only eighteen of these made it into English, a disappointing and quite baffling culling that withholds from English-speaking readers pieces on Moll Flanders, Alan Turing, Leo Perutz, Balzac, Sébastien Japrisot, Ferenc Karinthy, and Michel Déon, among others. (Two of the pieces in 97,196 Words were also not included in the original French edition: Lettre à une Calaisienne (also published, in a different translation, in The Guardian, as ‘That thing gnawing away at all of us’: Calais and the shantytown on its doorstep) and Orbiting Jupiter: my week with Emmanuel Macron, also published in The Guardian.) [This review refers only to the English-language edition; I have not seen the French Il est avantageux d'avoir où aller.]
       The chronologically-arranged collection begins with 'Three Crime Stories', first published in 1990, and concludes with the Macron-profile from 2017. Quite a few of these pieces echo and foreshadow some of Carrère's books, and/or fill in background about these works, from the Romand case (the basis for The Adversary) to My Life as a Russian Novel (UK title: A Russian Novel); 'The Last of the Possessed' describes his interest in and meetings with Eduard Limonov, which he expanded on for his book, Limonov, while a 2000 introduction to French edition of the collected stories of Philip K. Dick allows him to (re)cover ground from his Dick-work, I am Alive and You are Dead
       Several of Carrère's books feature questionable subjects whom he was in at least some closer contact with -- notably fraud and murderer Jean-Claude Romand but also Limonov -- and he repeatedly wonders about this intermediating role he played, considering it also in light of other cases, of writers who were close to their difficult subjects, such as Truman Capote in writing In Cold Blood (in 'Capote, Romand, and Me') and the Jeffrey MacDonald/Joe McGinniss case (in 'The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm') -- fascinating to him because of the question: "can a journalist who expresses false sympathy with someone to win his confidence be found guilty not only on moral but also on legal grounds ?" In 'The Life of Julie' he chronicles another chronicler, and her longtime subject, an HIV-positive woman named Julie, who has child after child who are take by Child Protective Services, again allowing him to explore the relationship of a chronicler with her subject.
       Quite a few of the pieces, especially the early ones, deal with terribly grim circumstances and, often, crimes, Carrère summarizing miserable and/or baffling lives and, often, solutions sought in murder (or at least attempted murder); Romand, with his fabricated life and then brutal killing-spree is the near-ultimate exemplar of what Carrère is drawn to. But there are also other kinds of disaster and human misery: Carrère is in Sri Lanka in December 2004 when the tsunami hit, for example, and accompanies a family who lost their daughter that day ('Death in Sri Lanka'), while his contribution to Olivier Rolin's anthology Rooms (Seuil) is one in which he writes about 'Room 304, Hôtel du Midi in Pont-Évêque, Isère' because his originally planned trip to Yokohama fell through because of the death of the thirty-three-year-old sister of then-girlfriend (and now wife) Hélène Devynck (who co-wrote some of these pieces) -- material also familiar from Lives Other Than My Own (UK title: Other Lives But Mine)
       It's not all bleak, however (and, indeed, even the darker pieces show touches of humor, self-deprecating and otherwise). A profile of The Dice Man-author Luke Rhinehart (actually: George Cockcroft) goes overboard on regurgitating the contents of the cult classic, but Cockcroft-in-person nicely deflates any of Carrère's hopes of what he would find (though he still keeps on searching among others dedicated to letting the roll of the die determine their next steps, a fatalism that obviously appeals to the author). And there's his piece on 'How I Completely Botched My Interview with Catherine Deneuve', yet anther profile that is more revealing about the author than his ostensible subject -- as is, indeed, generally the case here: Carrère's subjects remain strange and unfathomable to him, and no matter how great his interest he can't get any closer; his subject is, ultimately, himself, as close and good but also limited observer.
       Carrère suggests:

All of us are prisoners of our personality, terribly confined by our own small ways of thinking and acting. We'd like to know what it's like to be someone else, at least I would, and to a large extent I became a writer to imagine just that.
       Presumably, that's why he's drawn to larger-than-life figures, and people who are defined by faking it, whether as actors (Deneuve), politicians (Limonov, Macron), or unique frauds such as the fake doctor Romand. Carrère can never quite suppress his sense of awe about such characters, making for oddly flat portraits, rich in detail but the people themselves remaining as baffling as before; perhaps the reason Carrère is so obsessed with knowing "what it's like to be someone else" is that he's singularly incapable of getting out of his own skin; he is so very much himself that he can't place himself in the other, no matter how much information he accumulates about them. It's part of the appeal of his writing, but also its limitation; the portraits are emptily voyeuristic -- and fascinating as such --, and as such also safe, devoid of actual insight. So also, for someone who claims to be curious about what it is like to be someone different, he gets caught up in himself an awful lot, almost always featuring very prominently in these pieces, regardless of what the subject is (person, author, event); it's hard not to feel that it's all about him (which, of course, can get rather wearing).
       It is a shame that 97,196 Words doesn't include what appear to be some of the smaller, more incidental pieces included in the original -- introductions to books and remembrances, for example -- where the personal angle can be more rewarding (as it is here, too, when Carrère discusses, for example, some of his early reading, such as Lovecraft, Dick, and The Dice Man). Certainly, the subjects seem quite interesting -- Leo Perutz, Sébastien Japrisot, and Ferenc Karinthy, among others.
       As is, 97,196 Words does offer an interesting variety. While much that is covered here is familiar to dedicated readers from his other books, these nevertheless make for interesting supplementary pieces to these -- and there's also quite a bit that's not familiar. Carrère also gets around quite a bit for these pieces -- locales include Davos, Sri Lanka, upstate New York, Saint Martin, and Russia --, adding a decent touch of the exotic, as well, and between people, places, and circumstances there's enough of the extra-ordinary here to make for consistently engaging reading.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 October 2019

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97,196 Words: Reviews: Other books by Emmanuel Carrere under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Emmanuel Carrère was born in 1957. He has written numerous books, which have been widely translated.

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© 2019-2022 the complete review

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