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The Lover by Marguerite Duras.

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Title: The Lover.
Author: Marguerite Duras.
Genre: Literature, romance.
Country: France.
Language: French.
Publication Date: 1984 (1986 in English).
Summary: Set in pre-war Indochina, this is the haunting tale of a tumultuous affair between an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. In spare yet luminous prose, the novel evokes life on the margins of Saigon in the waning days of France’s colonial empire, and its representation in the passionate relationship between two unforgettable outcasts.

My rating: 7.5/10.


♥ I started to write in surroundings that drove me to reticence. Writing, for those people, was still something moral. Nowadays it often seems writing is nothing at all. Sometimes I realize that if writing isn't all things, all contraries confounded, a quest for vanity and void, it's nothing. That if it's not, each time, all things confounded into one through some inexpressible essence, then writing is nothing but advertisement. But usually I have no opinion, I can see that all options are open now, that there seem to be no more barriers, that writing seems at a loss for somewhere to hide, to be written, to be read. That its basic unseemliness is no longer accepted. But at that point I stop thinking about it.

♥ I think it was during this journey that the image became detached, removed from all the rest. It might have existed, a photograph might have been taken, just like any other, somewhere else, in other circumstances. But it wasn't. The subject was too slight. Who would have thought of such a thing? The photograph could only have been taken if someone could have known in advance how important it was to be in my life, that event, that crossing of the river. But while it was happening, no one even knew of its existence. Except God. And that's why - it couldn't have been otherwise - the image doesn't exist. It was omitted. Forgotten. It never was detached or removed from all the rest. And it's to this, this failure to have been created, that the image owes its virtue: the virtue of representing, of being the creator of, an absolute.

♥ I could get it wrong, could think I'm beautiful like women who really are beautiful, like women who are looked at, just because people really do look at me a lot. I know it's not a question of beauty, though, but of something else, for example, yes, something else - mind, for example. What I want to seem I do seem, beautiful too if that's what people want me to be. Beautiful or pretty, pretty for the family for example, for the family no more than that. I can become anything anyone wants me to be. And believe it. Believe I'm charming too. And when I believe it, and it becomes true for anyone seeing me who wants me to be according to his taste, I know that too. And so I can be deliberately charming even though I'm haunted by the killing of my brother. In that death, just one accomplice, my mother. I use the word charming as people used to use it in relation to me, in relation to children.

♥ He’s torn off the dress, he throws it down. He’s torn off her little white cotton panties and carries her over like that, naked, to the bed. And there he turns away and weeps. And she, slow, patient, draws him to her and starts to undress him. With her eyes shut. Slowly. He makes as if to help her. She tells him to keep still. Let me do it. She says she wants to do it. And she does. Undresses him. When she tells him to, he moves his body in the bed but carefully, gently, as if not to wake her.

♥ I tell him to come over to me, tell him he must possess me again. He comes over. He smells pleasantly of English cigarettes, expensive perfume, honey, his skin has taken on the scent of silk, the fruity smell of silk tussore, the smell of gold, he’s desirable. I tell him of this desire. He tells me to wait awhile. Talks to me, says he knew right away, when we were crossing the river, that I‘d be like this after my first lover, that I’d love love, he says he knows now I‘ll deceive him and deceive all the men I’m ever with. He says as for him he’s been the cause of his own unhappiness. I’m pleased with all he’d foretold, and say so. He becomes rough, desperate, he throws himself on me, devours the childish breasts, shouts, insults. I close my eyes on the intense pleasure. I think, He’s used to it, this is his occupation in life, love, nothing else. His hands are expert, it’s as if it were his profession, as if unwittingly he knew exactly what to do and what to say. He calls me a whore, a slut, he says I’m his only love, and that’s what he ought to say, and what you do say when you just let things say themselves, when you let the body alone, to seek and find and take what it likes, and then everything is right, and nothing’s wasted, the waste is covered over and all is swept away in the torrent, in the force of desire.

♥ On the sidewalk the crowd, going in all directions, slow or fast, forcing its way, mangy as stray dogs, blind as beggars, a Chinese crowd, I can still see it now in pictures of present prosperity, in the way they go along together without any sign of impatience, in the way they are alone in a crowd, without happiness, it seems, without sadness, without curiosity, going along without seeming to, without meaning to, just going this way rather than that, alone and in the crowd, never alone even by themselves, always alone even in the crowd.

♥ Never a hello, a good evening, a happy New Year. Never a thank you. Never any talk. Never any need to talk. Everything always silent, distant. It’s a family of stone, petrified so deeply it’s impenetrable. Every day we try to kill one another, to kill. Not only do we not talk to one another, we don’t even look at one another. When you’re being looked at you can’t look. To look is to feel curious, to be interested, to lower yourself. No one you look at is worth it. Looking is always demeaning. The word conversation is banished. I think that’s what best conveys the shame and the pride. Every sort of community, whether of the family or other, is hateful to us, degrading. We’re united in a fundamental shame at having to live. It’s here we are at the heart of our common fate, the fact that all three of us are our mother’s children, the children of a candid creature murdered by society. We’re on the side of the society which has reduced her to despair. Because of what’s been done to our mother, so amiable, so trusting, we hate life, we hate ourselves.

♥ The lady’s on the terrace outside her room, looking at the avenues bordering the Mekong, I see her when I come home from catechism class with my younger brother. The room is in the middle of a great palace with covered terraces, the palace itself in the middle of the garden of oleanders and palms. The same distance separates the lady and the girl in the low-crowned hat from the other people in the town. Just as they both look at the long avenues beside the river, so they are alike in themselves. Both isolated. Alone, queenlike. Their disgrace is a matter of course. Both are doomed to discredit because of the kind of body they have, caressed by lovers, kissed by their lips, consigned to the infamy of a pleasure unto death, as they both call it, unto the mysterious death of lovers without love. That’s what it’s all about: this hankering for death. It emanates from them, from their rooms, a death so strong its existence is known all over the town, in outposts upcountry, in provincial centers, at official receptions and slow-motion government balls.

♥ He takes her as he would his own child. He’d take his own child the same way. He plays with his child’s body, turns it over, covers his face with it, his lips, his eyes. And she, she goes on abandoning herself in exactly the same way as he set when he started. Then suddenly it’s she who’s imploring, she doesn’t say what for, and he, he shouts to her to be quiet, that he doesn’t want to have anything more to do with her, doesn’t want to have his pleasure of her any more. And now once more they are caught together, locked together in terror, and now the terror abates again, and now they succumb to it again, amid tears, despair, and happiness.

♥ It was a mistake, and that monetary error filled the universe. The outrage was on the scale of God. My younger brother was immortal and they hadn’t noticed. Immortality had been concealed in my brother’s body while he was alive, and we hadn’t noticed that it dwelt there. Now my brother’s body was dead, and immortality with it. And the world went on without that visited body, and without its visitations. It was a complete mistake. And the error, the outrage, filled the whole universe.

♥ People ought to be told of such things. Ought to be taught that immortality is mortal, that it can die, it’s happened before and it happens still. It doesn’t ever announce itself as such – it’s duplicity itself. It doesn’t exist in detail, only in principle. Certain people may harbour it, on condition they don’t know that’s what they’re doing. Just as certain other people may detect its presence in them, on the same condition, that they don’t know they can. It’s while it’s being lived that life is immortal, while it’s still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it’s not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It’s as untrue to say it’s without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void. Look at the dead sands of the desert, the dead bodies of children: there’s no path for immortality there, it must halt and seek another way.

♥ Departures. They were always the same. Always the fist departures over the sea. People have always left the land in the same sorrow and despair, but that never stopped men from going, Jews, philosophers, and pure travelers for the journey’s own sake. Nor did it ever stop women letting them go, the women who never went themselves, who stayed behind to look after the birthplace, the race, the property, the reason for the return.
Tags: 1920s in fiction, 1980s - fiction, 1st-person narrative, 20th century - fiction, fiction, foreign lit, literature, romance, translated, vietnamese in fiction
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