Befogged with influenza, shivering slightly despite a blazing fire, reading The Lover, by Marguerite Duras, seemed fitting. Short enough for a single sitting and exotic enough to take me away from ‘flu-riddled England, a perfect afternoon’s reading.
Duras, a favourite of mine from a lifetime ago, often writes autobiographically.
In the books I’ve written about my childhood I can’t remember, suddenly, what I left out, what I said. I think I wrote about our love for our mother, but I don’t know if I wrote about how we hated her too, or about our love for one another, and our terrible hatred too, in that common family history of ruin and death which was ours whatever happened, in love or in hate, and which I still can’t understand however hard I try, which is still beyond my reach, hidden in the very depths of my flesh, blind as a newborn child.
Living in Vietnam, our fifteen and a half-year old narrator, wearing a threadbare silk dress, gold lamé shoes and a brownish-pink fedora, attracts the attention of a wealthy Chinese businessman.
I already know a thing or two. I know it’s not clothes that make women beautiful or otherwise, nor beauty care, nor expensive creams, nor the distinction or costliness of their finery. I know the problem lies elsewhere. I don’t know where. I only know it isn’t where women think.
Duras’s stripped-down, forthright prose is perfect for these compact stories, the brutality revealed in layers. The opening paragraph ends with a comment from an acquaintance, “Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.” A few pages on and Duras adds:
Now I see that when I was very young, eighteen, fifteen, I already had a face that foretold the one I acquired through drink in middle age. Drink accomplished what God did not. It also served to kill me; to kill. I acquired that drinker’s face before I drank. Drink only confirmed it.
>What a wonderful line, "Drink only confirmed it". Hope your feeling better soon!
>Thank you for the kind words.The Lover is translated by Duras' long-time collaborator Barbara Bray, also the one-time partner of Beckett. It is chock full of wonderful lines.
>I'm so curious to read this after having read her re-working of the same story, L'amant de la Chine du nord (North China Lover), which is very cinematic (I think she wrote it as part of the process of adapting The Lover into a film). Anyway, love that you continue to remind me about Duras, and I hope you feel better soon!
>Thanks, Emily, better by the day! I'm looking forward to seeing the film of The Lover, and definitely reading more Duras. Her Moderato Cantabile is up next.
>What a page-turner, that one! Her writing almost felt humid, if that makes sense?Hope you feel better soon!
>Thanks Daniel-Halifax. That makes complete sense. Her genius is, with so few well chosen words, to conjure up that heat, the exotic locale and the sheer eroticism of her story.
>Perhaps it's only because I've recently finished reading The Lover in summer here this side of the equator that I noticed more the sheer masterful determination of her writing. Your mention of 'brutality revealed in layers' is perfect, although I also think her writing is active in making this brutality. She fiercely writes.
>Oh, I love that, Jen: she fiercely writes. It is so precise. Her sentences are like hand grenades. I've just finished rereading Moderato Cantabile, at one point she says of a boy child, "His hands were round and milky, still scarcely formed." At another juncture she says of the woman, "Her smile vanished into a pout, which left her face brutally exposed." The power of her sentences is overwhelming.