Posts Tagged ‘Marguerite Duras’
April 27, 2015 | by Brian Mastroianni
Duras’s The Lover, thirty years later.
Early in Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, we encounter an indelible image: a strange rag doll of a girl rides the ferry across the Mekong River en route to Saigon. She’s an adolescent, fifteen and a half, and she looks both too young and too old for her age, in a sleeveless, low-cut, red silk dress, a leather belt that belongs to one of her older brothers, gold lamé shoes, and—the most striking piece of her ensemble—a large, flat-brimmed men’s hat:
Having got it, this hat that all by itself makes me whole, I wear it all the time. With the shoes it must have been much the same, but after the hat. They contradict the hat, as the hat contradicts the puny body, so they’re right for me.
That elliptical, dreamlike tone is characteristic of the novel. The book’s narrator is a young woman in flux. She’s outgrown childhood and has poured her body into oversize markers of adulthood; the conclusion of the ferry ride signals the start of her sexual awakening, as she first glimpses the chauffeured black limousine that belongs to the twenty-seven-year-old Chinese businessman, the novel’s eponymous lover.
The Lover, Duras’s forty-eighth work, was published in France in 1984; the English translation arrived in the United States a year later. If the book, at just over a hundred pages, reads like the hazy, disconnected musings of a seventy-year-old writer looking at faded snapshots of her past, that’s because it is. When Duras claimed that the novel was entirely autobiographical, it became something of an international sensation. But, as the New York Times noted, “truth, in the Durasian universe, is a slippery entity”; Duras also went on to say “that the story of her life did not exist.” She and the novel found even more notoriety a decade later, when Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film adaptation was released. Duras eventually washed her hands of the film, which focused mainly on the erotic elements of the story—and indeed the novel’s depictions of sex receive an outsize portion of attention. But it’s also a study in the narrator’s fraught connection with her family and the cultural fissures in French-colonial Indochine. Read More »
December 20, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
One of my favorite novels of the past few years is Andrés Neuman’s Traveler of the Century, an ambitious “total novel” that is many things: a love story, a murder mystery, and, most of all, a novel of ideas. While his latest, Talking to Ourselves, is much more brief and intimate, it is no less moving and intelligent. And while Traveller was set in an imaginary place, Talking to Ourselves is grounded in our reality, alternating between the voices of a father, mother, and son as they all deal with the father’s illness. None of them dares to express the complete the truth to the other two; instead, it’s up to us to put the pieces together. As the mother, Elena, expresses near the end, “Let’s be honest. All honesty is a little posthumous.” —Justin Alvarez
When I last left America, an airport official confiscated Dos Passos’s USA trilogy to reduce my hand-luggage; I learnt my lesson and flew back in bearing only one light paperback, Open City by Teju Cole. As I read it over three months, its narrator, Julius, walked through the same streets of New York (then Brussels and back to New York) in a headspace James Wood astutely calls “productive alienation,” nourishing common encounters on the street with memories (of his father’s funeral, Nigeria, schoolmates illnesses, the first illicit consumption of a pornographic magazine or a Coca Cola). His narrative is besieged by loss, and calibrated, in the end, to omit rather than include. Cole’s novel is paradoxical, “turned in on itself” as Manhattan itself is: “water was a kind of embarrassing secret, the unloved daughter, neglected, while the parks were doted on, fussed over, overused.” —Lucie Elven
“Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.” If one story conjures the youthful enchantment of tossing snowballs at neighborhood cats and building snowmen, of chimneys emitting plumes of smoke, surely it must be Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Published in a slim blue volume by New Directions, this comic tale of family and friends of Christmas past is sure to delight; I joyfully revisit Thomas’s word-drunk reverie each year. —Adam Winters
This week I’ve been reading the Barbara Bray translation of Marguerite Duras’s L’amant (The Lover). On more than one occasion I found myself reading it aloud, not just to hear the pleasant tensions of translation, but to also listen to the heartache of Duras’s language. Against the backdrop of prewar Indochina, Duras paints the most tempestuous of love affairs. Yet amidst the novel’s unabated despair—the affaire de coeur, the family torn asunder by poverty, the mother’s madness, the young girl’s insatiable desire for another young girl’s body—shines a beacon of hope: the narrator’s inexorable determination to become a writer. “I’m still part of the family, it’s there I live to the exclusion of everywhere else. It’s in its aridity, it’s terrible harshness, its malignancy, that I’m most deeply sure of myself, at the heart of my essential certainty, the certainty that later on I’ll be a writer.” To second Maxine Hong Kingston’s remarks in her Introduction to the novel, “The Lover is a story about a girl and a woman becoming an artist.” —Caitlin Youngquist
Sportswriter Joe Palmer once warned that those of us who’ve spent time at the races may develop an “unreasonable fondness for certain places,” and if you’ve ever been to Aqueduct—the neon lights, the cinderblock walls, the geriatric thugs crowding the parimutuel windows—no doubt you’re familiar with the sentiment. A certain charm, one might say, if one were drunk on Wild Turkey—and yet the kids have not caught on, or at least not yet. The New York Racing Association recently commissioned thirteen street artists to liven up those cinderblock walls, resulting in several murals diverse in style, size and subject matter (including portraiture based on archival photos supplied by the NYRA). On a recent afternoon the grizzled throngs were still in evidence, though I also spied a few fresh-faced twenty-somethings looking only slightly ill at ease. Aqueduct’s current meet runs through December 31. —Abby Gibbon
February 25, 2013 | by Sarah Gerard
To call Marie Chaix’s work autobiographical would be incomplete, though most of her books tell and retell the stories of her life. Her writing is porous and breathes memory, attesting to memory’s transience and the impressions it leaves on the body.
At the age of twenty-six, Chaix read the notebooks her father had kept during his ten years in prison following World War II. Unbeknownst to her family, he’d been the right-hand man of pro-German Fascist collaborator Jacques Doriot and had fought in the Wehrmacht beside him. This was a shock and became the topic of Chaix’s first book, The Laurels of Lake Constance. Like many of Chaix’s works, it hovers somewhere between memoir and fiction. In June, Dalkey Archive Press will publish The Summer of the Elder Tree, translated by Chaix’s husband, Harry Mathews. It concerns her ten-year hiatus from writing following the death of her editor and reincorporates many of the places she visited in The Laurels of Lake Constance and in her second book, Silences, or a Woman’s Life, which Dalkey published late last year.
Chaix spoke to me on the phone from her home in Key West.
As someone who writes a lot of autobiography, do you believe that a story is preexisting—that a writer’s job is to find it, retrieve it, and record it—or is there some invention in autobiography?
Well, I didn’t realize it before writing, but in general I discovered that, even if you have characters that you know very well—even if you write about yourself, about your “life,” your memories—the result is exactly the same as if it was fiction. I think that readers know that it’s autobiographical because writers care when it’s autobiographical, but they read it and think about themselves, which is what happened to me.
But I think writing doesn’t work like that, you know? Of course, you have a motive, you have yourself, you have your family. But they become completely—and even yourself—you become completely part of a larger world, a larger story. Read More »
February 16, 2012 | by Vanessa Blakeslee
The slim novel came my way quite by accident. I had stumbled across a review of the film The Lover and ordered a VHS copy through my movie-of-the-month club. The first Saturday I could secure a house free of hovering parents, my fellow honors English friends and I, as sex obsessed as we were lit geeks, watched, enraptured, Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical depiction of an adolescent girl in French Indochina who embarks on an affair with a wealthy Chinese man. The girl’s family is crass and impoverished, but she is a good student and wants to be a writer. Soon after, I got my hands on a paperback with a cinema-still cover and was not disappointed.
“I’m fifteen and a half,” the unnamed narrator repeats early in the book. “There are no seasons in that part of the world, we have just the one season, hot, monotonous, we’re in the long hot girdle of the earth, with no spring, no renewal.” Nothing suggested sex as much as sensual lyricism, warm, distant places, and anything French.
I was also fifteen and a half, a virgin consumed with the mysteries of sex, of forbidden encounters. I was also going to be a writer. I read the book and watched the film again and again. Just what was The Lover’s appeal? By then I had discovered Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Lolita, but Duras’s novel resonated more acutely, an exotic Lolita tale but told from the woman’s (if she could be called that) point of view.
My favorite section was where the narrator describes herself on the ferry, wearing gold lamé high heels and a man’s fedora: “Going to school in evening shoes decorated with little diamanté flowers. I insist on wearing them. I don’t like myself in any others, and to this day I still like myself in them.” It is the day she is about to meet the “Chinaman” for the first time. She is fixated on this particular, outlandish ensemble, as stubborn as a child playing dress up. But the faint hint of pedophilia, of prostitution, fell so far into the background that it became practically invisible to me then, obscured by the striking imagery and strange, lush atmosphere of colonial Saigon. Read More »
October 18, 2011 | by Jonathan Gharraie
Though The Cloud Messenger is Aamer Hussein’s first novel, it comes after five collections of stories and a novella, Another Gulmohar Tree. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, but a long-time resident of London, Hussein has dramatized the sorts of encounters between and within cultures that reflect his own facility in seven languages. He writes with intelligent restraint about the experience of displacement, but also the indelible richness of wherever we like to think of as home. The Cloud Messenger draws on his own unsentimental education as a student of Farsi to create a romance about language and the unexpected life that reading and translating can take. Last year, we met to discuss the Granta anthology of writing from and about Pakistan at his home in West London.
Could you begin by explaining your background?
I’m from Karachi, third-generation in almost an accidental way, because both my grandfather and father were born there, even though they hadn’t lived there very much until after partition because of certain historical … mishaps, you might say. My mother is from Northern India and from a much more traditional family, although her father was an academic.Read More »
June 6, 2011 | by Scott Esposito
Decorated with numerous awards in his native Spain—including the same Premio Rómulo Gallegos that catapulted his friend Roberto Bolaño to international renown—Enrique Vila-Matas has pioneered one of contemporary literature’s most interesting responses to the great Modernist writers. Taking the Modernists as towering giants that will never be equaled, Vila-Matas works to inscribe himself—at times literally—in the margins of their works. His tools are irony, parody, paradox, and futility, and his goal is to mix fact, fiction, and autobiography in order to depict not reality but truth. I asked him about his newly translated novel Never Any End to Paris—his third in English—based on the time he spent in Paris as a young writer attempting (and gloriously failing) to triumph as Hemingway did.
Never Any End to Paris uses your youth in Paris to explore ideas of creativity, influence, and identity. The narrator is a writer whose facts and dates are similar to yours, though—I think—he both is and isn’t you. Do you think art requires certain compromises with reality?
Which reality? If you mean the conventional “consumerist reality” that rules the book market and has become the preferred milieu for fiction, this doesn’t interest me at all. What really interests me much more than reality is truth. I believe that fiction is the only thing that brings me closer to the truth that reality obscures. There remains to be written a great book, a book that would be the missing chapter in the development of the epic. This chapter would include all of those—from Cervantes through Kafka and Musil—who struggle with a colossal strength against all forms of fakery and pretense. Their struggle has always had an obvious touch of paradox, since those who so struggled were writers that were up to their ears in fiction. They searched for truth through fiction. And out of this stylistic tension have emerged marvelous semblances of the truth, as well as the best pages of modern literature.
This sentiment is very similar to something you say in Paris—“where there is a mirage there is life”—and it reminds me of something I heard you say in an interview: that for the modernists the quest is rectilinear, in contrast to that of Ulysses, whose quest was a circle. In your books, what inspires this search?
In a movie by Wim Wenders, Nicholas Ray says “you can’t go home again.” Sometimes I think about this phrase, and in order to calm down I imagine myself as a Chinese who came home. “I’m just a Chinese who returned home,” wrote Kafka in a letter. Sometimes I wish I were this Chinese, but only sometimes. Because the truth is that what I write frequently brings me to a descent, a fall, a journey within, an excursion to the end of the night, the complete opposite of a return to Ithaca. In short, I long to journey endlessly, always in search of something new. Always alert.