Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

A woman looks back on her youth in Indochina

Our nameless narrator, a fifteen year old French girl living in Saigon, is noticed by an affluent young Chinese man who quickly becomes obsessed with her. She allows him to squire her about, support her family, wash her body with cool water from a jar and cover her with kisses. Her mother (and even the narrator herself) are ashamed of the mixing of the races, but the mother needs the money and the beaten down girl needs the excitement. Her home life is crazy, with a dead father who left the family penniless, and an overdramatizing mother who favors the sociopath older son, ignoring the two younger children. Ostracized at school, the girl eventually returns to France for education and the affair ends. 

This was a short novel, a reflection on a lost world, written in little biting chunks the size of a paragraph or two. The book opens with one of these little biting chunks. Our narrator is considered more beautiful now that she is old because her face is “ravaged.” Most of the story is told in the first person, though sometimes Duras slips into the third, to emphasize the depiction of the past and the narrator’s memory of the girl she had been. Mostly the past is rendered in present tense and the present rendered in past tense and sometimes the narrative slips into the future tense.  What Duras does is bring vividly to life a swept away colonial world, and in many ways, this novel reminded me of Faulkner, an attempt to recreate the deeply screwed up past.

I am intending to read novels about love and all the love novels are turning out to be about something other than love. I don’t think the narrator loves this weird little man and I think the weird little man simply has a freaky sexual obsession with her. This book, I think, is actually about the all-controlling Mother.

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