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He likes to psychologize, to reconstruct scenes and episodes, to speculate when the historical record is thin.

Still, he tells us when he’s doing this, and the lack of historical evidence turns out to be his ally, encouraging him to speculate obviously rather than to novelize silently.

“Limonov” vibrates with borrowed energy: Carrère uses, essentially, a present-tense version of the novelist’s best friend, free indirect style, to inhabit and animate the violently short-circuiting mind of his perpetually unappeased protagonist.

It is a hard book to put down, perhaps because it has a certain uneasy moral short-circuiting of its own: again, there are no references, so fact and fiction are allowed to trade uniform and noted numerous errors of fact.)Carrère works himself and his own stories into these books, partly because he is a good postmodernist, who is suspicious of concealed or “invisible” third-person narrators. As he puts it in “The Kingdom,” “When I’m being told a story, I like to know who’s telling it.

He describes Paul’s visit to Philippi, a city half populated by Macedonians and half by Roman settlers.

Carrère was born in 1957 into a privileged and intellectual family.

(His mother, Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, is a distinguished historian and the permanent secretary of the Académie Française.) Though Carrère’s wife jokingly suspects him of being “Catholic around the edges,” he comes from a milieu that was likely to be interested in theology only, in Borges’s words, “as a branch of fantastic literature.”Yet by the late nineteen-eighties, after launching a fairly successful literary career—a book about Werner Herzog; a few well-received novels—he had become depressed and unproductive: “I could no longer write, I didn’t know how to love, I knew I wasn’t particularly likable.

(There is good French precedent for this kind of intervention: he often cites the nineteenth-century scholar Ernest Renan, whose biographical narrative, “Vie de Jésus,” dared to fill in Jesus’ “lost years,” between his youth and the start of his ministry.

In fact, Carrère is much more cautious than Renan, who thickly painted a lyrical portrait of Jesus as a beautiful utopian dreamer.)Carrère brings to life, in this way, the dustiest of old school assignments. Paul’s travels through the ancient world” (complete with pencilled maps of Corinth, Damascus, Jerusalem, Philippi, Athens, and so on).

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