Being an aspiring writer, I have always been deeply interested in how the process of creating a story works. One of my favorite authors wrote once that when writers read a book they like, they usually read it trying to dismantle the story and understand how was it written, to discover the process behind it. I am not sure if that is a general rule, but I am sure that I have been doing that for the past years, trying to find out what works for me.
I have not read any other book by Tatiana de Rosnay, and when I came across “Russian ink” it was merely by chance: The supermarket, a table full of books with a sign announcing two books at the price of one, and the back cover of this one informing me that it was the story of a writer that was rather frustrated with his new novel’s progress. It obviously caught my eye as soon as I saw it, and I still consider it a fortunate inversion.
Nicolas Duhamel is just another regular man. Even less than regular. He is unable to get over his father’s death, he has lived with her mother for a couple of years more than necessary, and his professional career is as unsuccessful as it could be.
All of it changes the day he loses his passport.
Due to the new laws, to renew the passport, Nicolas must prove that he is effectively French, given that both his parents had been born in foreign countries: Her mother in Belgium, and his father in Russia. During a short investigation to come up with the documents to prove that, he runs into his father’s birth certificate, which gives him an unexpected piece of information about his origins.
The impossibility to put all the pieces of the story together pushes Nicolas to do something he has never done before: Write.
Three years after this, his novel, based in his confusing family history, has become a worldwide success. It has not only been translated into many languages but also been adapted into an Oscar-winning film. Money, fame, and recognition have changed Nicolas completely. He is no longer Nicolas Duhamel, the unsuccessful philosophy teacher, but Nicolas Kolt, the celebrity. And he enjoys it very much. But there is a problem: He has not been able to write another word ever since.
In an attempt to find inspiration, the protagonist decides to spend a few days with his new girlfriend, Malvina, in an exclusive Italian hotel. Little does he know that his very much expected vacation is not going to be as quiet as he has thought: Malvina’s constant jealousy, a mysterious guest stalking him, and the sudden arrival of a presumed rich and famous editor will complicate his stay significantly, and force him to deal with all his past mistakes at once.
Why should you be reading it?
I have mentioned before that one of my reasons to enjoy this book so much is the fact that it speaks about how a book is actually written, but I also find the portrayal of the main character, who is an author himself, to be quite interesting.
Here we have a writer whose fame has made him forgot any other thing in his life: He has neglected his family, his friends, and even his own writing in favor of enjoying his moment of glory. In short, we have a writer that does not remember the reasons why he started writing in the first place, which in my opinion is a kind of death for any artist: Forget where you come from and what you have to go through to get where you are.
Nicolas starts to write to deal with memories and feelings that grieve him, to try to build his identity all over again and create possible answers to the questions no one wants to answer about the past. At that moment he did not expect or want the tremendous change the book’s publication is going to bring into his life, he simply wanted a way of expression, and that was in part what causes the book to be that good.
I am not saying that Nicolas is a character easy to sympathize with. He is a chaotic mix of vanity, selfishness, and obsession, full of the whims and tricks of a celebrity, but also strangely observant and imaginative, something that shows up in the way he enjoys watching people and the thoughts these observations evoke in him. De Rosnay’s writing allows us to see the story in stages, through the main character’s memories, keeping the tension and mystery till the very last page.
From this book, I draw a conclusion that is, if not good, at least comforting: That the lack of inspiration can work as an inspiration itself.
I certainly recommend it.
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