Between fiction and non fiction

Giving his personal account, noted French writer Emmanuel Carrere explains the rationale for switching writing from first person to third person

January 09, 2020 03:43 pm | Updated 08:03 pm IST

To get the right title for a book is perhaps a greater challenge than writing the book itself. Emmanuel Carrere calls his latest collection of essays, “97196 Words”. Now if you wonder what it contains, is it fiction or non-fiction etc., you are quintessentially asking for Carrere’s profile.

Carrere answers, “I don’t care very much about genres…I did write novels for more than ten years. Now what I write is not fiction, you can call it non-fiction. I try to write it as a novel, the difference being that the characters have not come from my imagination. But I craft the story like a novel. I hope it gives the pleasure and excitement that one expects from a novel.”

He continues, “I was writing about Jean Claude Romand who was the worst type of criminal…It was very difficult for me to write as non fiction about how he had cold bloodedly planned all the murders. I began writing this in 1993 but the book The Adversary was published only in 2000…I had it in the back of my mind all these seven years. It was some kind of a psychological ordeal to do that terrible story…I met him in jail, I attended his trial…there was a moment when it came to me that I had to write it like fiction, not fiction, but with true facts. I had a legal responsibility because if I got any fact wrong I could be sued…it was also around the same time that I switched writing from first person to third person…I think both these changes are linked very closely..when it is fiction the writer knows everything about the characters. But if you have to write something about Romand whose mind is a black box to which you have no access…it is immoral and complicated to say Romand thinks like this or feels like that. The only way tomanage that is to say,” I guess…I think…I suspect…he was thinking like this. So third person becomes essential.”

Carrere redefines the idea of non fiction saying, “When you are writing non fiction you cannot be claiming to be writing the truth. You can at best say it is your truth…it could be a very narrow truth. You have to be aware of that and so too your readers. Another reason why I made this change and now I can not imagine any other way of writing. This is how I feel more honest with myself, with my readers and the characters in the book.”

Carrere also writes in Russian. His mother was of Russian origin and a well known expert on Russia in France. “We, my sisters and I grew up very French, but some memories of Russia still give me a comfort an warmth. So I learnt Russian and am able to write somethings in Russian which I may not be able to do in French. Russian is both familiar and unfamiliar…”

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.