I’ve finished reading Un Roman Russe by Emmanuel Carrère. My friend Marion offered me that book (together with the film that Emmanuel shot at the same time: “Retour à Kotelnitch”) a few days before I flew to St Petersburg. I had watched the film a while ago but hadn’t read the book. Strangely, while in Petersburg I started making lists of books I wanted to read about Russia but couldn’t really get myself to start any of them. Like I wanted to experience the city and the people first hand without being clouded by anybody else’s vision.
Thing is, now I’m in Sydney, with all the aforementionned books which weighted a ton in my suitcase and I can often be found reading russian stories while lying in the sun. I must love contrast.
I really liked Emmanuel’s book although I must admit that going from Stendhal’s magnificient, insightful and precise style to a more modern language didn’t do Emmanuel much of a service. I enjoyed how he manages to create a canvas of narrations and make them all slowly fit together but what I related to most was that as a grown up he decided to start learning russian again in order to track his maternal roots. Reading about his struggles with it, and how he had to take several months trips to Moscow, spending his days writing notes and new vocabulary and still feel like he didn’t get anywhere is something I have experienced too. There are so few people in Paris who have that intense curiosity for Russia that I felt a strong connection with him straight away.
The love story, or break up story rather, on the other end didn’t really convince me and worse still, the depiction of his sex life – and even the erotic short story in the middle – I felt were not interesting at all. Even quite vulgar actually. The way people talk or write or even display sex these days is really poor and predictible. It’s like people mistake sex and pornography, but this could be a whole blog entry in itself. I just find it so caricatural – almost morbid. The psychological aspect of sex surely is a lot more interesting to try to convey, in my opinion.
Anyway, apart from that yes I did cry a bit at the end because I found it so moving how he went all that way in an attempt to understand what had happened to his georgian grandfather (who disappeared in 1944) so that he can alleviate some of his mother’s suffering and dedicates the book to her.
In a way, the traditional love story lacked something (I did not get why he loved that woman so much – maybe the characters lacked emotional depth, I couldn’t really understand their attachment for each other) whereas his love for his mother and his love for his russian heritage were blinding and inspiring.
Thanks again Marion for this thoughful gift.