Emmanuel Carrère, The Adversary


Literary Architecture

Matteo Pericoli is the founder of the Laboratory of Literary Architecture, an interdisciplinary project that looks at fiction through the lens of architecture, designing and building stories as architectural projects. In this series, he shares some of his designs and what they reveal about the stories they’re modeled on.




“My problem is … finding my proper place with respect to your story. … I thought I could … remain objective. But objectivity, in such an undertaking, is a delusion.” In The Adversary, Emmanuel Carrère tells us the unbelievable yet true story of Jean-Claude Romand, a man who, in 1993, tried to commit suicide after brutally killing his wife, his two children, and his parents. The investigation reveals that Romand, an impeccable family man with a degree in medicine and a researcher at the World Health Organization, well-off and well-liked by everyone, in reality was an impostor. Every aspect of his life is a lie—a giant and unsustainable scaffolding created to support his fabrication. 

That is, until it all falls apart, bringing Romand down with it. His only way out is by wiping out everything and everyone, including himself and the people closest to him. His life’s facade wasn’t hiding any truth, only a void. The book is neither a novel (inspired by reality) nor a mere chronicle of Romand’s life, his crimes, and his trial. It is instead Carrère’s attempt to explain how he approached Romand, what he found interesting about him, and how he tried to give a narrative shape to the idea of an evil that is absolute, because it is groundless.

Carrère shares with us the weight of his choices and dilemmas. By interacting with the protagonist, he, too, becomes a crucial character in the story. We perceive his effort to construct an adequate narrative for an intractable subject. Thus the book ends up being a story of how the author tells a story of evil, not just a tale about evil.

We are used to seeing buildings’ scaffoldings as temporary elements whose function ceases to exist the moment the final structure is complete. But what happens when the scaffolding is permanent and the structure remains incomplete? When it’s only thanks to the scaffolding that the inner structure can stand? When the scaffolding becomes a kind of exoskeleton of an empty structural void? Its faceted core, seemingly incomplete and wholly dependent on the scaffolding, is composed of staggered planes, outer projections jutting out of an unknown inner space. It is monolithic and multivolumetric at the same time. Every intersection between each plane generates another apparent volume and an idea of solidity, yet the empty interior is incapable of supporting itself.

The urban context, anonymous and predictable, doesn’t help us understand the volume. On the contrary, it all but intensifies its incompleteness and senselessness while the structure’s function and meaning remain a mystery. Why is it there? Why that shape? What is it for?

In collaboration with Giuseppe Franco.