Emmanuel Carrère Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Emmanuel Carrère 1957–

French novelist and critic.

The following entry presents an overview of Carrère's career through 1990.

Best known for his prizewinning novels, Carrère has received lavish acclaim from both French and American critics, some of whom compare his intense, surreal style and experimental techniques to the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka.

Major Works

Although Carrère first began his career as a nonfiction writer with Werner Herzog (1982), a critical study of the renowned German filmmaker, he garnered international acclaim with his novels Bravoure (1984; Gothic Romance) and La moustache (1986; The Mustache). Gothic Romance, which was awarded the Prix Passion and the Prix de la Vocation in France, is a comic parody of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and utilizes such postmodern techniques as temporal and spatial dislocation, metafictional paradoxes, and an intertextual compositional structure. The central character is Polidori, a companion of Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron who was disparagingly alluded to in Shelley's preface to Frankenstein as an inept, melodramatic storyteller. In Carrère's comic rendering, Polidori is a paranoid, opium-addicted hack writer from whom Shelley stole the idea for her famous novel. He exacts revenge by relating the "true" story of Frankenstein, in which Shelley herself is killed by the monster and condemned to join a race of black-eyed zombies. Part of the book is set in contemporary Europe, where Captain Walton—also a character from Frankenstein—and a staff of romance writers peruse Polidori's manuscript and succumb to the malevolent zombie strain. The Mustache is similar in its intense depiction of psychological pathology and surreal dislocations of consciousness. The Kafkaesque story of a man who shaves his mustache, only to find that his wife and all of his acquaintances insist that he never had a mustache, the novel has been praised by critics as a compelling allegory of modern alienation, paranoia, and insanity.

Critical Reception

Critics have generally hailed Carrère as an innovative and artful stylist who is skilled in the use of postmodernist narrative techniques, yet who also recalls the psychological intensity and astuteness of such masters of the surreal and macabre as Edgar Allan Poe, Jorge Luis Borges, and Franz Kafka. While some critics have faulted Carrère's experiments with narrative form as, at times, contrived and distracting, he has many esteemed admirers, including the critic John Gross and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer John Updike. Gross has described The Mustache as "[d]reamlike and undeniably dramatic…. Carrère has written a book that is likely to ensnare anyone who starts reading it." Updike has characterized Carrère's novel as "stunning—stunning in the speed and agility with which it slices through to its underlying desolation, and stunning in its final impact."