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The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deceptionby Emmanuel Carrere
Reading Group Guide
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Adversary is an utterly shocking yet true account of a life spent telling lies — and of the heinous crimes and mass murders that followed these lies. Jean-Claude Romand, a Frenchman now serving life in prison for killing his wife, children, and parents in 1993, is profiled by Emmanuel Carrère, one of France's leading authors of psychological suspense. Why would Romand — a successful doctor, kind husband, gentle father, and loving son — commit such unfathomable acts? In his search for answers, Carrère corresponds with (and later visits) Romand, fully reports on his trial, and interviews several of his former and present contacts. The truth of Romand's background grows ever more chilling, and ever more perplexing, as we learn — revelation after revelation — that he had no medical degree and no job, had spent years living off the small fortune his relatives long ago entrusted to him, and had thus been lying to everyone he knew for eighteen years. What led Romand to dwell in such an abyss? How did his whole life become an ever-increasing, and increasingly evil, series of lies? As this gripping book illustrates from its sentence onward, Romand's story poses hard questions on the nature of truth — and of identity, as well. Given Carrère's objective prose, intellectual rigor, and expert pacing and plotting, The Adversary, which is another name for Satan, is as hypnotic as it is horrific.
2. Reread the "farewell letter" that Romand left in his car. To whom does he apologize? What are the "ordinary accident" and "injustice" that he mentions here? Also, how would you characterize the tone — or attitude, or voice — of this note? Is Romand's tone an accurate reflection of his state of mind? Explain.
3. When beginning to work on this book, author Emmanuel Carrère sent a letter to Romand that reads, in part: "'What you have done is not in my eyes the deed of a common criminal, or that of a madman, either, but the action of someone pushed to the limit by overwhelming forces.'" Do you agree with Carrère's assessment of Romand? Why or why not? How, if at all, did this assessment affect your reading of The Adversary?
4. Identify as many of the lies in Romand's personal history as you can recall. Next, discuss the implications of these lies. Romand spent eighteen years of his life deceiving everyone he knew privately and professionally, but he was also deceiving himself. How did this prolonged self-deception damage Romand — especially psychologically, socially, and emotionally?
5. Was Romand's killing of his parents, wife, and children an implicit part of his deep-rooted deception, or were these terrible crimes the product or end-result of his lying? That is, given his ongoing pattern of falsehood and cheating, was Romand's act of mass murder an inevitability, or was it a consequence? Try to address these questions not just from your own perspective as a reader, but from those of Carrère and Romand himself.
6. At one point during the trial, the judge says to Romand: "'It is felt that you are not really answering the question.'" Explain the full context of this remark. What exactly is the judge asking of Romand? Overall, how did Romand's remarks and actions in court strike you (as a reader)? Evasive, sincere, egotistical, remorseful, and/or otherwise?
7. Examine the two secondary characters of Marie-France and Bernard. Who are these people, what drives or motivates them, how do they come into Romand's life, and what sort of relationship do they have with him? Explain the complex feelings and impressions that Carrère has regarding these individuals.
8. Comment on the religious transformation that Romand experiences once he has been sentenced to life in prison. How does this transformation relate to the book's primary theme of ongoing deception? And why does Carrère claim, at the end of his narrative, that telling the story of Romand "could only be either a crime or a prayer?"
9. The subtitle of The Adversary reads A True Story of Monstrous Deception. How did the truth of this account — the fact that these events really happened — influence your response to the story of Jean-Claude Romand? When asked by one reporter why he was drawn to this story, Carrère replied: "It's not the murder; it's not even the lies. It's the fact that under them there was nothing. That was the most disturbing thing for me: All the facts are known." Do you agree with the author's view of Romand and his story? Explain why or why not.
10. Conclude your discussion of this book by focusing on its literary qualities. What are the merits and limits of the "true crime" form of storytelling? Are such strengths and shortcomings apparent in The Adversary? Where? Finally, compare The Adversary to other outstanding true crime works you have encountered in the past, such as the books In Cold Blood or Helter Skelter, the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and so on.
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