Reading The Lover, you have the experience of sitting down with Marguerite Duras, perhaps in a dim room on a day in late summer, sipping cold tea in tall glasses, intent on hearing the story of her Chinese lover, the man she lost her innocence to many years ago as a young French girl in Indochina. It is a story she has never told before, and even before she begins to tell it you both realize that there are other stories inextricably tangled around it, stories of her mother, her brothers, of Hélène Lagonelle and Betty Fernadez and Marie-Claude Carpenter, which must also be told, which must also be heard. She cannot tell you the story of the lover without telling you about her mother's madness, her elder brother's cruelty, her younger brother's death, and her own life in Paris many years after that meeting on the ferry when the story began, when she was fifteen years old. She says she wishes she had a picture of herself on that day, incongruously dignified in a man's fedora and gold lamé shoes as she crossed the Mekong, because, she says, it is the only [image] in which I recognize myself (Duras, 4). You wonder why she longs for this lost photograph when her words alone are more vivid and evocative than any photograph could ever be.She takes out an old album of pictures, black and white portraits of children and people standing in bright sunlight, and hands it to you. You turn the pages as she talks, passing a picture of a dowdy woman in a courtyard with three children, a portrait of the same woman in her old age, and a snapshot of a grinning young man which she informs you, in an offhand way, is her son. It's this photograph, she says which comes closest to the one never taken of the girl on the ferry, and it takes you a moment to realize that the girl she is talking about is herself at fifteen (13). You wonder if that day on the ferry suddenly felt very far away to her, as if it had happened to a different person.
[...] The brother and the lover are opposing forces in the life of the fifteen year old Duras, and though the book is named after the latter, the former's presence seems to haunt every page. As Duras explains to her lover, elder brother's cold, insulting violence is there whatever happens to us, whatever comes our (54). Her brother, whose “first impulse is always to kill, to wipe out, to hold sway over life, to scorn, to hunt, to make suffer” is countered by the lover who wants only to give and receive pleasure. [...]
[...] Under their spell of silence, the family members are allowed to manipulate and abuse each other: the elder brother steals from everyone, even his dying mother, though she would never say a word against his transgressions, preferring to repeat “little platitudes about him, always the same ones” the mother rails angrily against her daughter for her affair with the Chinese man, calling her a prostitute, “worse than a bitch” yet she allows, even encourages the daughter to take money from the lover, and to treat her family to lavish meals in expensive restaurants, during which none of them, in their customary silence, deign to speak to him. [...]
[...] It is surely only fitting in the scheme of dichotomies and opposites underlying The Lover, that Duras turns these silences into words, emotionally bearing, confessional, and succinctly eloquent. Yet the true power of the novel lies in the words Duras does not say, in the blank spaces between paragraphs, in the shifts in perspective and tense which suddenly pull the reader away at critical moments, as if afraid of anyone getting too close. While Duras appears to bare all in her revelatory and honest prose, the spaces between the fragments of narrative tell a different story, one of concealment: the reader senses silent trains of thought in those spaces which the words around them hint at, evoke the sense of, but never directly describe. [...]
[...] In The Lover, Marguerite Duras writes openly for the first time about her childhood affair with an older Chinese man, a seminal encounter in her sexual and creative development which she had concealed in her earlier books about her childhood in Indochina. Duras acknowledges her previous silence on the subject, saying “Before I spoke of clear periods, those on which light fell. Now I'm talking about the hidden stretches of the same youth, of certain facts, feelings, events that I buried” By delving into those “hidden stretches,” Duras uncovers much that is painful and distressing about her relationships with her lover and her family, and presents her story frankly, in a voice emboldened by age. [...]
[...] Duras's feelings for each also converge in the drive towards death: the irresistible “pleasure unto death” she experiences with her lover mingles with her persistent desire to murder her brother. In this inverse relationship of pleasure and pain, between lover and brother and her family as a whole, Duras finds a kind of transcendence in the awakening of her sexuality and creativity. Only time and distance give her the space to resolve her true feelings for each of these figures. Long after escaping from her brother's domination and her mother's madness, she writes I don't love them any more. [...]
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