There is a great deal to admire in 97,196 Words, including the Sri Lanka piece, Carrère’s meditations on Jean-Claude Romand and a vivid, affecting essay about the ruined life of a young addict named Julie – all the more impressive for having been written at some remove, via photographs by Darcy Padilla. But a strain of boyish fantasy, mixed with middle-aged bathos, makes it too frequently hard to take Carrère seriously. (In this, he resembles Houellebecq, one of his most prominent admirers.) In a sequence of columns about his love life, written for an Italian magazine, Carrère comes off as an antique battle-of-the-sexes type; as is frequently the case, a hapless, can’t-help-it act is part of the deal. The lowest point: he publishes in Le Monde an erotic letter to a girlfriend, hoping she will read it on a train ride and arrive in a state of Carrère-oriented sexual delirium. What could go wrong?
A superb collection of essays by Emmanuel Carrère, one of the best storytellers around. He’s French. He has written novels, memoirs, screenplays and murder stories. He’s probably most famous for his book The Adversary, a clinical study of Jean-Claude Romand, a multiple murderer of the utmost strangeness. I’ll come to that in a minute... 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.