Emmanuel Carrère is a renowned writer. After decades of emotional upheaval, he has begun to live successfully―he is healthy; he works; he loves. He practices meditation, striving to observe the world without evaluating it. Then, he returns to a Paris in crisis. His work-in-progress falters. His marriage begins to unravel. He wavers between opposites―between self-destruction and self-control; sanity and madness; elation and despair. The story he has told about himself falls away. And still, he continues to live.
Even as Carrère regards his own meditation practice with ironic detachment, he has a genuine feeling for his tai chi and Iyengar masters. He gnaws at that contradiction in ways that bear, with humor and wit, on his own literary project ... Like tai chi, Carrère’s confessional mode of writing, deftly captured here in John Lambert’s translation, demands that he move 'as slowly and as fast' as he can — 'to meditate, and to kill' ... Carrère’s gift is to relate all this with the intimacy of a diarist. His books, associative and digressive, move with ease between observer and participant, between small, recollected moments and incommensurable realities. In exploring his own consciousness, he seems also to explore ours ... 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 ... Accustomed to feeling as if we are in intimate dialogue with Carrère, we can’t help wondering what he held back. At the same time, he suggests, if we sometimes gin up stories (as the migrants may have done), it may simply be because the ones we long to tell cannot be made accessible to others. Our suffering is no less horrible, our moments of lucidity no less hard-earned.
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 ... Carrère’s work revolves around a practice of extreme — deranged, even — candor ... Does Carrère have complete or minimal control over his torrential disclosures? And if they are riveting, as most of them are, does it matter? ... 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. Or his habit of issuing serene and peculiar generalizations ... He is both intentionally and unintentionally funny. Often it’s hard to tell the difference ... 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. I would gladly read a hundred pages of Carrère scrutinizing the 'huge caverns' of his nostrils, lingering on the way that air prickles and tingles against their walls — but I understand why somebody else wouldn’t want a single paragraph of it. He is the opposite of an acquired taste. If you don’t like Carrère now, you never will. Yoga is an effective way to find out.
... there’s a central mystery that makes Yoga as profoundly engaging as it is frustrating ... 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 ... After Carrère is discharged from the hospital, the story stagnates as its disparate parts fail to cohere ... Ultimately, “Yoga” shows there’s no single narrative about the connection between meditation and mental health. Some people benefit from it; others don’t. Moreover, Carrère’s narrative implies that this is the wrong question; with Yoga, he seems to conclude that happiness depends on factors outside our control — or at least outside our minds. At the end, when he’s sure nothing good in his life will ever happen, he falls in love again. His low shoots to a high; he feels 'completely happy to be alive.' And the roller coaster sets out for another spin.