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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Emmanuel Carrère

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To purchase Yoga

Title: Yoga
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 335 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Yoga - US
Yoga - UK
Yoga - Canada
Yoga - Canada (French)
Yoga - France
Yoga - Deutschland
Yoga - Italia
Yoga - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • French title: Yoga
  • Translated by John Lambert

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Our Assessment:

B : engaging -- though falls apart too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 31/5/2022 Luke Brown
The Guardian . 26/5/2022 Sam Byers
Literary Review A 6/2022 Cal Flyn
London Rev. of Books . 8/9/2022 Lucie Elven
The LA Times . 26/7/2022 Randy Rosenthal
New Statesman . 20/7/2022 Chris Power
The NY Times . 3/8/2022 Molly Young
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/8/2022 Sheila Glaser
The Observer . 29/5/2022 Rob Doyle
The Times . 21/5/2022 John Maier
TLS . 18-25/12/2020 Sarah Richmond
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2022 Warren Motte

  From the Reviews:
  • "The reader’s prurience is piqued: what happened in the middle ? Frustrated as we may be by this, there is plenty of the customary pleasures of reading Carrère: a relentless clarity of thought and confessional honesty. Yoga is fascinating on the purpose of meditation, even if it doesn’t achieve its initial aim: to demonstrate its power as a defence against desire and unhappiness." - Luke Brown, Financial Times

  • "Carrère offers no easy answers. He doesn’t need to. His singular, ever-expanding work, in which one pain need never obscure another, in which truths and half-truths are held not in opposition but in delicate, precarious balance, is an answer in itself." - Sam Byers, The Guardian

  • "Carrère’s style is relaxed and unpretentious -- disarmingly so. At first, the text (ably translated by John Lambert) feels loose and freewheeling, even free-associative. (...) Yet, incrementally, these apparently haphazard asides and anecdotes coalesce and come into alignment. Nothing is incidental. (...) The collapse of Carrère’s marriage, which appears to have occurred in tandem with his mental breakdown, is the great, unspoken presence in the book. It can be observed only indirectly, via the effects it has on the rest of his life. Given his excoriating candour in all other areas, the absence of any direct reference to it is so striking that, several times, I leafed back through the book looking for the section I had missed." - Cal Flyn, Literary Review

  • "Yoga, whose New Agey message wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1970s, is about the struggle to accept the fact that you can’t mute your ego, either in the interest of peace and love, or in the false hope of objectivity." - Lucie Elven, London Review of Books

  • "Carrère spends about 120 delightful pages describing his unorthodox spiritual journey up to this point, including idiosyncratic definitions of meditation (.....) Whatever its causes in the real world, the elision in the book is an unforgivable flaw, a black hole at its center. Sometimes, what’s left unsaid creates a more interesting work; in this case it decidedly does not. (...) Ultimately, Yoga shows there’s no single narrative about the connection between meditation and mental health." - Randy Rosenthal, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Carrère’s work is obsessed with truth, yet repeatedly demonstrates the ways in which writing, particularly autobiographical writing, so often fails to uphold it. Nowhere in his body of work is this more on show than in Yoga. (...) His insistence that he is telling the truth can get irritating, but his failure to do so is not a fatal flaw. Instead it adds an interesting dimension to his project -- though I might feel very differently about that if I were his subject, or his ex-wife, and not just his reader." - Chris Power, New Statesman

  • "There’s a lot more plot, but it’s unimportant. The gist is that Carrère’s life gets very bad and then slightly better. Yoga is an assembly of messy and forceful tangents -- not his best book, but a fascinating amplification of all the qualities that cause some readers to love Carrère and others to find him intolerable. (...) Then there is his self-obsession — always pronounced, and in Yoga untrammeled. And his conversational prose style, which can impart the treacherous delusion that you, reader, might also become a famous novelist if you simply typed up 100 percent of your internal monologue and hit spell-check. (...) Either you’re charmed and entranced by this tone of thought or you’re repelled; it’s tough to imagine a reader who occupies the middle ground." - Molly Young, The New York Times

  • "The contortions required to mask his wife’s absence pull at the contours, the shape of the self that Carrère hopes to portray, in ways the reader may only obliquely sense. The absence of his wife goes some way toward explaining one of the weaknesses of the book: The women in it are mainly outlines, which he fills in with his desires or his needs. If his depictions at times ring false, so too do some of the story lines required by the fictive turn Yoga takes." - Sheila Glaser, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(W)hat makes it a Carrère book -- and what makes me look forward to them so keenly -- is his way of telling it, the trademark blend of extreme exhibitionism and digressive interest. His skill in constructing a narrative from disparate materials is exceptional, with all manner of insights, anecdotes and conjectures stacked up like hoops around the long slender “I”. (...) The book’s ending on a rote -- and, it seemed to me, delusive -- note of hopefulness left me suspended in the ambivalence his books typically induce." - Rob Doyle, The Observer

  • "Each part is divided into short sections, flagged with variously amusing, intriguing or dramatic subtitles. The effect is of an intelligent restlessness.(...) The section describing Carrère’s visit to Leros is the weakest." - Sarah Richmond, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Quite apart from the tone of confession that this book puts on display, it is the plurivocal quality of Yoga that is its most striking feature, and more especially the way in which one story comes to say what another cannot." - Warren Motte, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Emmanuel Carrère presents himself in Yoga as someone: "who doesn't write fiction but autobiographical texts whose first rule is not to lie, someone for whom literature is above all else the place where you don't lie". It's a claim he hammers home: "Regarding literature, or at least the sort of literature I practice, I have one conviction: it is the place where you don't lie".
       Carrère's writing has long tended to the most auto- of fiction, and Yoga reads as a memoir, or at least a wallow in self, Carrère deeply navel-gazing -- not least, through the practice of yoga -- but his insistence on truthfulness seems like asking (or hoping) for a bit much. Disarmingly soul-bearing, and frequently admitting to and counting up his many faults ("I tend to think of myself as a bad man") -- long part of his familiar schtick --, Carrère would seem to be upfront with the reader -- but even from early on, one has to wonder if he isn't even deluding himself. So, for example, he claims that:

I, for one, spend a lot of time thinking about the future and not much about the past. Nostalgia is foreign to me.
       Yet even aside from Yoga being, as he also repeatedly notes, a retrospective account, he is here constantly looking to the past (and practically never to the future). Indeed, just a few pages after making this claim he is (nostalgically ...) looking back: "to those mornings at the Café de l'Église with a blend of fondness, incredulity, and bitter irony. I was full of myself. I was happy. I believed it would last". A few pages later, he is practically living in the past, recalling his schooldays -- "I can see it perfectly (...) I can also see perfectly the apartment where I grew up" -- while elsewhere he recalls scenes from decades earlier ("Thirty-five years ago, when I was a young journalist"; "Exactly ten years and seven days earlier"; "Some twenty years ago, while reading the newspaper Libération"; "Fifteen years ago, I made a documentary film"; "I read this book when I was a teenager, and I've never forgotten it") and several times he dredges up scenes from: "When I was young".
       So, from the first, Carrère's self-assessment is suspect -- problematic, given how much self-assessment there is in Yoga.
       (As several reviewers have also pointed out, both the events recounted in Yoga and the book itself sit in the shadows of the author's separation and divorce, from Hélène Devynck, with Carrère having apparently agreed not to write about her without her consent. She thus figures as a great void in Yoga, a significant figure, notable however practically only for and by her absence -- clearly also impacting Carrère's efforts to chronicle this tumultuous period in his life and making for an incomplete picture -- without him really addressing this main reason for its incompleteness).
       In a neat self-reflexive contortion surely meant to buttress his documentary bona-fides and just how real this account is, Carrère writes at some length about Wyatt Mason visiting him to write a profile for an American newspaper -- and then quotes from Mason's piece; he also quotes verbatim and at some length from his medical reports.
       The façade finally cracks, the pretense crumbling, only right near the end, when Carrère admits:
That's what happens, inevitably, I think, as soon as you start changing proper names: fiction takes over and, as my school friend Emmanuel Guilhen used to say, it's the door that opens onto all the windows.
       For all Carrère's harping on truthfulness, Yoga is elaborate fiction -- though one can grant him that presumably, much as in his practice of yoga, he seeks and hopes to find truthfulness there (rather than in truly strict, no-names-changed documentation ...).
       Whatever it is, Yoga is a quite entertaining rambling ride of the kind familiar from Carrère's recent work. (After the promise of his early novels, he has become, somewhat regrettably, something of a one-trick pony as far as the presentation of his books goes -- but he still puts on a pretty decent show doing it.)
       Carrère comes to admit that: "Yoga aims to achieve unity, I'm too divided for that", and Yoga itself is a somewhat discombobulated work -- reflecting also some of what Carrère chronicles here. There are five sections to it, more or less discrete periods and episodes.
       He suggests his original inspiration was to write a book about yoga, of which he is a longtime practitioner:
(I)t struck me that it would be both a useful and a pleasant task to write a short, unpretentious book in a conversational tone, an upbeat, subtle little book explaining the topic from my own experience -- the experience of an apprentice, needless to say, and not of a master.
       The first and longest section of Yoga has Carrère describe his experiences at a yoga-retreat where he planned to stay for ten day, immersed in meditation and yoga-practice with over a hundred others. Describing his longtime engagement with yoga and tai chi, and the experiences at the retreat, the narrative here meanders appealingly along, an interesting look at both the author and the practice of yoga. His stay is, however, cut short, as he is pulled out of the programme: cut off from the news, he had not known of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, but he is then called upon (Michel Houellebecq being unavailable ...) to speak at the funeral of Bernard Maris, who died in the attack.
       Carrère handles this episode well, too, not indulging in the subject-matter as one fears he might. It is a short chapter, too -- and, as a coda of sorts, Carrère mentions at the end that a few months later he went back to the retreat to complete a full ten-day session. he barely devotes a page to that, however -- a sign, already, of the major shift that then comes with the mental breakdown so serious that he is institutionalized, which he describes in a section titled 'The Story of my Madness'.
       Here, too, Carrère maintains a welcome distance -- in part presumably because his memories of this time are foggy ("I'm writing these pages three years after the fact, and my memory is still a field of ruins"), due also to the electroconvulsive therapy he underwent. He was, clearly, a mess -- but emerged reasonably well ("The medication seems to be working"). A long-planned trip to Iraq is then apparently undertaken, but also covered in less than a page -- the voice here oddly prospective ("we'll sit on deep, hideous sofas (...) we'll drive around in an armored jeep (...) We won't find the Blood Quran") -- followed by his going to Leros, in Greece, where he helps out among the migrants there for a while, the subject of the fourth section. A final section then is a sort of summing-up, featuring also another loss, the death of Carrère's longtime publisher Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, of P.O.L).
       Like the course of the years of his life Carrère chronicles here, Yoga unravels some after a strong start. He does keep coming back to yoga -- i.e. doesn't completely lose the original thread -- but the story does then veer about with considerably less focus -- and ultimately doesn't cohere to much of a whole. Carrère can and does close his story on something of a high note -- he's found some peace and satisfaction -- but in light of the abrupt previous shifts it's hard to be convinced it's very stable.
       Carrère has an appealing and compelling manner; if he can be -- as he probably would eagerly admit -- irritating, the narrative is consistently engaging. But Yoga is uneven, with some of the episodes that surely merit at least some more attention -- his second stay at the yoga retreat; the trip to Iraq -- barely rating much of a mention (not to mention the collapse of his marriage, a curiously missing shadow over the entire book) and the story eventually petering on rather than just out. He is strong on yoga and meditation, conveying both his practice of them and what they have meant to him well, of interest even to a reader such as myself, for whom these kinds of mind- and physical games (and, indeed, all such spiritual exercises) are completely foreign.
       It all makes for an ultimately somewhat unsatisfying odd heap of a read, but it's almost never not of some interest, Carrère and his self-obsession, even at its most enervating, engagingly enough presented.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 July 2022

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Yoga: Reviews: Other books by Emmanuel Carrère under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Emmanuel Carrère was born in 1957. He has written numerous books, which have been widely translated.

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© 2022 the complete review

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