Would it make more sense just to give in and put ‘book eleven’ as the title? Yes. But I like the consistency even if it is a continued lie… Week eleven, here we go!
I haven’t been hooked on a non-fiction book in a while, but I vaguely remember hearing whispers of this case and I was intrigued.
Emmanuel Carrère writes as an intimate part of the story. Carrère wrote to Jean-Claude Romand, the convicted murderer, and got an incredible insight into his mind.
The Adversary follows the story of Romand, his crimes, and his life in prison afterward. If you’re not familiar with the case, here’s a little recap. In January 1993, Romand slaughtered his parents, his wife, and their two young children. Afterwards, Romand set his house on fire and attempted to kill himself. He was in a medically-induced coma for a few days after the ‘incident’ to recover from the smoke inhalation.
The case is horrifying, fascinating, and bewildering. You realise part way into the novel that Jean-Claude’s life was an entire mess of lies and loneliness. He for some reason didn’t take his second-year medical exams back in college. He lied to his parents, his classmates, his friends and continued to attend classes, despite not being registered as a student. He attended classes, took extensive notes, purchased the same textbooks as the others in his classes. Ramond even leant his notes to other, less dedicated students. The amount of time he put into pretending to be a doctor, he could have simply… become one.
The deception then continued into his adult life. He lied, said he’d snapped up a high-profile job at WHO (World Health Organisation) in Geneva. He nabbed the girl of his dreams despite being repugnant and snivelling, by claiming he had cancer and getting a pity date from her. He lied to his wife about going to work every day, driving over the border to Geneva and spending all day walking about the city, reading guide books, driving up to the WHO building where he allegedly worked, and reading magazines in his car.
If he were working his job, he would have heaps of cash. So, to combat that issue, Romand convinced his parents, his parents-in-law, and anyone else who would listen to give him large chunks of money to ‘invest’. Then, Romand kept the money (obviously) and would spend it on luxury cars, nice restaurants, and properties in France.
There are a few other twists and turns to the story. But, unsurprisingly, the facade that Jean-Claude haphazardly built around his entire life, the lies he twisted into his family life, they all came crashing down. Romand panicked. He felt the noose tightening around his neck, and lashed out in the worst possible way.
Emmanuel Carrère creates a careful narrative around the brutal case. He writes honestly about his experience swapping correspondences with Romand in prison. He writes even more candidly about his guilt at contacting Romand, and not the families of the deceased. He does contact one of Romand’s closest friends (Luc Ladmiral) which adds another layer to the story, as Luc was with Romand during college and watched his fake life build into something picturesque. He was also there, just along the street, when that fake life literally crumbled into flames.
I would recommend this book if you’re a true crime fan, and you’re not overly fussed about the style of writing. You can tell that Carrère is more suited to screenplays. That is in no way a critique, just a different style of writing which has certainly influenced his writing in this book. The language swaps between a few fanciful and unnecessary metaphors (which my year nine teacher would’ve ripped out had this been my draft) and very basic, informative writing – close to journalism.
The Adversary follows a fascinating, tragic story and is very quick to read. Give it a go if you fancy a break from fiction.