Sunday, 4 March 2012

L'amant by Margeurite Duras 1984

Marguerite Donnadieu (better known as Duras, her pen name) was a French writer and film director born and raised in what was at the time Indo-China, which is now Vietnam. Her parents worked as teachers in the French colony, her father fell ill soon after his arrival, and returned to France where he died. Duras's mother was forced to raise three children, two sons and a daughter, under somewhat poverty-like conditions.

The style with which Duras writes is linguistically simple, though the content is confusing even in translation. Duras even said herself regarding l'amant:

L'amant, c'est de la merde. C'est un roman de gare. Je l'ai écrit quand j'étais soûle

Duras struggled with alcoholism during her adult life, which led to the throat cancer which killed her in Paris, at the age of 81.

Duras in real life had an affair with a native man, who in this semi-autobiographical book she describes as being Chinese. Whatever nationality he was, this seems a momentous event in her life which she continuously harps back to, also in her other works. Whilst L'amant provides an honest expression of the overwhelming feelings of being in love, the exploration of sexuality is intense; it provokes curiosity and wonder.

That said, the real reason why this book touched me so much is highlighted towards the end of the book. Upon leaving Indo-China, the young girl comes to the realisation that she was in love. She was protecting herself from the hurt and confusing emotions of love and pretending to be involved only for the sexual pleasure. After reaching this realisation she finally allows herself to cry. It's a moment so poignant, emotional and realistic.

However shocking, difficult to navigate and interpret in several passages, this book is a masterpiece of contemporary French literature and I thoroughly recommend it. Just do bear in mind that the author was probably drunk whilst reading it.