Synopses & Reviews
Now a major motion picture starring Daniel Auteuil (Sade, Girl on the Bridge, Jean de Florette) directed by Nicole Garcia (Place Vendome)
Acclaimed master of psychological suspense, Emmanuel Carrère, whose fiction John Updike described as “stunning” (The New Yorker) explores the double life of a respectable doctor, eighteen years of lies, five murders, and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.
“Unputdownable...Imagine a sleek, twenty-first century version of In Cold Blood.
” —The Washington Post Book World
“The mesmerizing true crime tale of an apparently ordinary man whose life mutates in the space of a few blood-splattering hours from the realm of Renoir to that of Stephen King.” —People
“Mesmerizing...a fascinating meditation on Jean-Claude Romand and what his bizarre life might mean.” —The New York Times Book Review
“As a writer, Carrère is straight berserk; as a storyteller he is so freakishly talented, so unassuming in grace and power that you only realize the hold hes got on you when you attempt to pull away....You say: True crime and Literature? I dont believe it. I say: Believe it.” —Junot Díaz, author of Drown
Acclaimed master of psychological suspense Emmanuel Carrere, whose fiction John Updike described as "stunning" ("The New Yorker"), explores the double life of a respectable doctor, 18 years of lies, five murders, and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.
About the Author
is one of France's most critically acclaimed writers, author of screenplays, a biography of Philip K. Dick, and two novels, including Class Trip
, which won the prestigious Prix Femina. A major bestseller in France, The Adversary
is being published in eighteen countries. Carrère lives in Paris.
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.
1. "On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993," this terrifying book
begins, "while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I
was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting." What does this opening reveal
about the relationship between the author and subject of The Adversary? Describe
the nature of this relationship. How does it change or evolve?
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
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.