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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

Lives Other Than My Own
(Other Lives But Mine)

Emmanuel Carrère

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Lives Other Than My Own

Title: Lives Other Than My Own
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 243 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Lives Other Than My Own - US
Other Lives But Mine - UK
Lives Other Than My Own - Canada
D'autres vies que la mienne - Canada
Lives Other Than My Own - India
D'autres vies que la mienne - France
Vite che non sono la mia - Italia
De vidas ajenas - España
  • US title: Lives Other Than My Own
  • UK title: Other Lives But Mine
  • French title: D'autres vies que la mienne
  • Translated by Linda Coverdale

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well done, but an uncomfortable wallow in others' grief

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe . 20/9/2011 Laura Collins-Hughes
Publishers Weekly . 18/7/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The point of his meandering book, and of his bald assessment of his own callousness, is that he believes he is a better human being now, changed by finally acquiring -- in middle age and thanks to Hélène -- the ability to love and be loved. Perhaps, but Carrère as narrator can be hard to like." - Laura Collins-Hughes, Boston Globe

  • "Carrère somewhat smugly asserts himself, in this autobiographical novel, as a puppeteer of grand emotions, evoking with a merciless hand incredible sadness, hope, and even surprise. (...) Although often difficult, Carrère's work here is thoughtful and laced with moments of brilliance." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Lives Other Than My Own is, like My Life as a Russian Novel (UK title: A Russian Novel), an autobiographical account. Here, however, it is the 'lives other than my own' that Carrère considers more closely -- though also in an effort to get a handle on his own, and in particular his difficulty with relationships. When his story begins he is on vacation in Sri Lanka with his current love-interest, Hélène, but they both feel that they're on the verge of breaking up. A double dose of lives being shattered around them changes that, and it is these that Carrère focuses his book on.
       Carrère and Hélène (and their sons -- who barely figure in the story; Carrère may focus on some others, but his fundamental self-absorption remains very limiting) are in Sri Lanka in December 2004, when the tsunami hit. Nothing happened to them, but another couple staying at the same resort lost their young daughter, and Carrère describes the days after the disaster, and before they can return home to France, and observes the other family's grief and guilt. Back in France, he and Hélène are again confronted by mortality, as Hélène's younger sister, Juliette, is in terminal decline from cancer; Carrère and Hélène follow the rapid decline and then finals days, and Carrère then also further explores the deceased Juliette's life.
       Married to the devoted Patrice -- a simpler, somewhat hapless would-be cartoonist -- and the mother of three young girls, Juliette was also a judge -- and close to another local judge, Étienne, who also suffered from cancer, and had lost a leg to it. (Juliette also can't walk properly, due to the radiation therapy she received battling an earlier cancer outbreak.)
       These brushes with mortality, and how the various family members deal with it, lead Carrère to also reflect on his own life and loves -- as he has never been able to commit to anyone in such a way. Apparently, all the grief and mutual devotion rubs off on him, and he and Hélène manage to have a go at it -- at least that's where the story leads to and leaves off.
       This would-be introspective work is certainly affecting, yet also feels uncomfortably like an extensive wallow in others' grief. Carrère also spends a great deal of space justifying himself (and how he has presented this material) by explaining how he had those depicted herein read the manuscript, and how he promised he would cut or change anything they disapproved of; rather than saving descriptions of the reactions to the book for another book, he already includes them here.
       Carrère seems to mean to convince that he's a changed and better man for all this, but he also manages to remain a rather clinical observer throughout, touched by the grief but, one can't help but notice, always rather at a distance: these people who suffer and die aren't truly close to him. And while by the end he does show himself in more loving light, embracing a family ideal, he does so in carefully tailored fashion: there doesn't seem much room for his son, for example, a figure almost entirely disregarded after (or, for that matter, during) the Sri Lanka trip.
       Carrère tells these life and death stories, and how those left behind cope with the losses, very well, but he remains a rather unsympathetic figure. It's a decent and often moving but uncomfortable read, and the point of the whole exercise gets a bit muddled by Carrère's presence and his interactions with those who know that he is writing about this.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 November 2011

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Lives Other Than My Own: 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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© 2011-2022 the complete review

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