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:
And if you want to read more about Carrère himself:
Limonov, A Novel, P.O.L 2014 (tr. John Lambert).