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Emmanuel Carrére
The Adversary
Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt and Company
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 0-8050-6583-0
Publication Date: 01-09-2001
191 Pages ; $22.00
Date Reviewed: 02-27-2002
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002

Index:  Non Fiction

True stories, no matter how unusual, are not by virtue of their truth particularly interesting. This can be the problem with many true crime books. Authors sometimes seem to think that simply by laying out "the facts of the case" they have done their job. Good true crime writing only comes from those who remember that they're telling a story. Great true crime writing comes from those writers who find themselves part of the story they are telling. Involvement in the story seems to tip the scales, enabling the writer to bring the reader deeper into the events, to see them with the eyes of the involved. Anne Rule kick-started a career when it turned out that her good friend at the suicide hotline was serial killer Ted Bundy. In 'The Adversary', Emmanuel Carrére manages to develop a rapport with a man who has no rapport with reality. It's an interesting feat, that leads to a beautifully written little book.

From the get-go, from the very first sentence of the book, Carrére pulls himself into the story. "On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent teacher meeting.." It's a fascinating story, to be sure. Romand, having missed a test for medical school, lies about it. The lies accumulate, until he is married, with children, supposedly employed as a medical researcher for WHO (the World Health Organization). In fact, he had no job and is managing to live off of money he takes from his friends and the rest of his family, supposedly "investing" it for them. He spends his days sitting in restaurants, parked at highway rest stops, wandering the forest. It's the consummate version of 'living a lie'. The sheer pettiness and boredom of Romand's acts are astounding.

Carrére interleaves the story of Romand's unraveling with the story of Carrére's decision to contact the man as he is in prison. He's accused of killing his wife and children and his parents. He's done the deed. Carrére is spending too long gazing into the abyss. Will he become his own version of the monster he is hunting? It's an interesting question, and Carrére (translated by Linda Coverdale) answers it in antiseptically clean prose. He is rather shameless in his pursuit of Romand, trying to eke out his story. There are lies, and truths and lies within truths and matters that can never be verified. There's a feeling that the subject, the author, and eventually the reader are on the edge of a vast vacuum. It's the nothingness of pure lies, of tall tales that become small truths. It's held at a distance, but the reader can see it nonetheless.

The other side of this coin is that 'The Adversary' can occasionally seem a bit shallow, as if it is gliding above the truth by minimizing the involvement of the writer and the reader. Fortunately, the subject himself is so much an absence, so void of humanity, that it is clear no human can ever really understand this creature. It cannot understand itself. It looks like a human, it talks like a human and it walks like a human. It's a small story, a tale told by the reflective foil backing of the mirror.

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