meilufay’s #CBR4 review #74 the Lover by Marguerite Duras
I first read this book when I was a teenager and I was completely obsessed with it. I loved it. I read it all in an afternoon. I remember clearly reading it on my way to work, sitting on the El, the afternoon sunlight moving across the page. I was impressed with Duras’ poetic use of language, with the novel way she portrayed an exploitative sexual relationship between a very young girl and inappropriately aged man. I was struck by the sketch she made of French Colonial Vietnam and of how well she described what it’s like to grow up between cultures, of having the word home describe two very different geographical locales and how, when you grow up that way, you don’t really feel as if you belong anywhere.
All of those things are still true about the novel. But I’m on the other side of a couple of serious adult relationships and I now find I’ve got a completely different attitude to Duras. Whereas I originally read this book in almost one sitting, this time around I found it painful to slog through. Duras was a deeply damaged woman and it’s difficult to have patience with her as she romanticizes unhealthy choices. She’s smart, she’s observant and she’s a fantastic writer but she is also… a nightmare. This whole book is populated by broken people making choices which will damage both themselves and others and the cycle of tragedy is difficult to endure. Obviously, great works of fiction are written all the time by messed up people which are about messed up people doing messed up things. I’ve read and loved a lot of books that fit this description. So I can’t say that this is a bad book for doing those things. I can’t even say it’s a bad book because I didn’t enjoy reading it. (I’m not sure, after all, that I enjoyed reading The Talented Mr. Ripley, but for all that I thought it was a fantastic book.) So I will simply say that The Lover is a self-involved, self-mythologizing, self-romanticizing work. It’s beautifully and frustratingly written. You may or may not like it. You may or may not think it’s a good book. It’s interesting, it’s well-written and, blessedly, it’s short.