I hope you’re ready to have your heart smashed into a million little pieces.
For that appears to be Emmanuel Carrere’s forte: delivering observations about life, love and loss that leave the reader emotionally devastated.
This strange little book is my first encounter with Carrere, a French author, journalist and philosopher who is beginning to build a signficiant following among English-language readers.
Part memoir, part musing, part biography, part reportage, Lives Other Than My Own begins with Carrere’s holiday to Sri Lanka in December 2004 – just as the Indian Ocean tsunami sweeps ashore, killing thousands and forever changing the lives of many more. Carrere and his wife, staying in a hilltop hotel, are themselves unaffected; but those around them have lost husbands, wives and children. The first third of the book is about the days that follow, as Carrere works to find the universal truths in the loss and grief all around him.
Then, the book takes a sudden and unexpected turn – and this is why it’s such a strange read. Upon returning to France, Carrere’s wife’s sister gets cancer and soon dies. The remainder of the book becomes a biography of the sister-in-law he barely knew and the two men – her husband, and a close colleague in the legal profession – most affected by her death.
The aim, I think, is to contrast two types of loss: the sudden and the slow. And Carrere does a masterful job of it: this is a powerful, heart-wrenching book written in a quiet matter-of-fact way that reminds me of my beloved Ishiguro.
There’s no manipulative melodrama here: just the power and honesty of real life.