Look at Me! Emmanuel Carrère: Limonov, A Novel

 

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In a previous post we wrote about Eduard Limonov’s It’s Me, Eddie.  Now Emmanuel Carrère has written what he describes as a novel which is also a biography of  Limonov. How do you do that without interviewing the subject of your work until you have almost finished writing it? It’s quite easy if your subject has written several books detailing his version of the events in his life. All you have to do is read the books and paraphrase their content. Of course it may be a while since you’ve read these books and you may get a few things wrong, like the name of the wife who accompanied Limonov to the U.S: not Tanya, but Elena. And did Limonov have his own rifle with a telescopic sight, as he says? Or did it belong to his employer, as Carrère says? And why not tell the circumstances of that, as Limonov does, as his hands move to the trigger when he has the Secretary General of the UN in his sights,

‘It’s the mescaline!’ I said out loud in a suddenly sober voice. The mescaline, Edward! Have you forgotten you swallowed two tablets? You did, don’t forget it!

Limonov says after Elena leaves him, almost as an afterthought, that he tried to strangle her, but in Carrère’s version we see the hands round her throat squeezing tighter and tighter until of course it all turns into erotic release. Is this an attempt at psychoanalysis, or is Carrère just letting his fantasy run riot? Is this about Limonov or about Carrère?

At times in this biographic novel it is almost as if he has merged with Limonov. This timid son of middle class academics seems to be so impressed by Limonov’s account of himself as a randy hero with a massive capacity for alcohol that he seems to have quite lost his objectivity as a biographer. There is a more complex story to be told, but this isn’t it. I don’t agree with the Amazon blurb that the book “suspends judgment” on Limonov. It’s like a PR job for Limonov. It uncritically retells many of his stories of facing down powerful Chechen thugs, of his kindness to the many disturbed women in his life, his charisma, his honesty. In fact an alternative view of Limonov is as another kind of Kardashian, seeking attention, notoriety, anything where he’s the star.

It’s clear that I lost patience with this book.  As biography it’s slipshod; as novel it lacks an independent imaginative narrative. Having read three of Limonov’s ‘fictional memoirs’ (why? you may well ask) I would have liked to read a more clear-sighted account of his life, but although there is a great deal of information about Russian politics, there is no analysis of the subject of this work. It is implied he is always on the verge of becoming a political heavyweight, but it never quite happens. Just talk and more talk.

At the end of the book, faced with a rather dismal Limonov now in his seventies, Carrère seems to dump his hero. He is not Vladimir Putin (although he would like to be), another young wife has left him, and on the doorstep after their interview he asks Carrère,

‘It’s strange, you know. Why do you want you write a book about me?’

I’m taken aback but I answer, sincerely. Because he’s living – or lived, I don’t remember what tense I use – a fascinating life. A romantic dangerous life, a life that dared engage directly with history.

And then he says something that cuts me to the quick. With his dry little laugh, without looking at me, “Yeah, a shitty life.”

That about sums it up.

 Perhaps I’ve been soured and disenchanted by my own engagement with Limonov’s writings over a long time. Others have written more kindly of Limonov, A Novel. You can read some other reviews here:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/24/julian-barnes-limonov-emmanuel-carrere-punk

http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/021_04/13938

And if you want to read more about Carrère himself:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/21/emmanuel-carrere-most-important-french-writer-youve-never-heard-of

Limonov, A Novel,  P.O.L 2014 (tr. John Lambert).

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5 thoughts on “Look at Me! Emmanuel Carrère: Limonov, A Novel

  1. Well now I’m glad that I didn’t buy this. Limonov does, as you point out, have that revolutionary glamour, but then there’s a few problems with that: Che died at the peak of that glamour and so remains iconic. Limonov seems to be a difficult, elusive figure to pin down–perhaps that is the biographer’s attraction to his subject.

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    1. I think if you really want to get the feel for Limonov his book His Butler’s Story is all you need to read. And it gives a nice gossipy insight into the lives of very rich New Yorkers.I’m enjoying your exploration of Balzac. Maybe I’ll revisit Dickens.

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  2. Thank you for this very interesting analysis.
    But I do not think that Emmanuel Carrère too glowing with Limonov: quite the contrary.
    I explain this on the site TOUT SUR LIMONOV.

    There are a lot of new information about the real Eduard Limonov, and photos and videos selected
           
    There among other things, on the first page, this statement of Zakhar Prilepin, the most important among young Russian writers:

    “I remember a round table in Moscow, to which were invited almost all the writers of my generation enjoying a certain notoriety. The moderator asked the participants which contemporary writers who had immediately preceded us had on we most influence.

    We had all answered with one voice: Limonov.

    He is of extreme modernity. His thinking is fast and unforgiving. Limonov is brave. It is in the tradition of the great Russian literary school. He is not content to write beautiful texts, it also builds his destiny.

    We have not yet measured the full extent of his personality: men are often hollow, fearful and envious. Quietly acknowledge the existence next to you of a great man is a gift. Few men can. But it will acknowledge.”
    Zakhar Prilepin

    José-Dominique

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    1. Thank you for your comment José-Dominique. Your web-site is most interesting and with a great deal about Eduard Limonov that is new to me. However my knowledge of him comes from the three books I was able to access in English: It’s Me Eddie, His Butler’s Story and Diary of a Russian Punk.I think Emmanuel Carrere got a great deal of his information from these books too. He admired the man for his outrageous behaviour. I would have liked to know both sides of the story ie.points of view of Elena, Jenny etc.

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