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Likely Stories: The Lover

April's Likely Stories: Middlemarch, The Lover, Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store, and The Lost Estate

  The Lover 

Marguerite Duras weaves a semi-autobiographical tale of a young, French girl in French Indo-China after World War II

Follow Jim McKeown's book blog, Rabbit Reader.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Marguerite Duras is most known for her screenplay of the successful 1959 French film Hiroshima Mon Amour.  However, my favorite of her books is the autobiographical novel The Lover, published in 1984.  It won the prestigious Goncourt Prize in French literature, given for "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year."

Duras was born in French Indochina (now Vietnam), after her parents responded to the French government, which encouraged people to move to the colony.  Marguerite's father fell ill soon after their arrival, and returned to France, where he died.  After his death, her mother, a teacher, remained in Indochina with her three children.  The family lived in relative poverty.  These experiences greatly influenced her writing.  An affair between the teenaged Marguerite and a rich merchant, apparently provided the basis for The Lover,  which was made into a successful film.

In the late 1930s Marguerite worked for the French foreign office handling Indochina.  From 1942 to 1944, she worked for the Vichy government in an office that allocated paper to publishers, but she was also a member of the French Resistance. In 1943, she published her first novel, Les Impudents, using the pen name “Duras” after a village where her father had lived.  April 4, 2014 would have been her 100th birthday.

The Lover tells the story of a young girl living in French Indochina with her mother and two brothers.  The novel, a psychological exploration of a young girl’s “coming of age” and search for love in a dysfunctional family, contains ethereal and haunting descriptions.  Duras wrote,

“I can’t really remember the days.  The light of the sun blurred and annihilated all color.  But the nights, I remember them.  The blue was more distant than the sky, beyond all depths, covering the bounds of the world.  The sky, for me, was the stretch of pure brilliance crossing the blue, that cold coalescence beyond all color.  Sometimes, it was in Vinh Long, when my mother was sad she’d order the gig and we’d drive out into the country to see the night as it was in the dry season.  I had that good fortune – those nights, that mother.  The light fell from the sky in cataracts of pure transparency, in torrents of silence and immobility.  The air was blue and you could hold it in your hand.  Blue.  The sky was the continual throbbing of the brilliance of the light.  The night lit up everything, all the country on either bank of the river as far as the eye could reach.  Every night was different, each one had a name as long as it lasted.  Their sound was that of the dogs, the country dogs baying at mystery.  They answered one another from village to village, until the time and space of the night were utterly consumed.”  (82).

I have wanted to get back to The Lover, by Marguerite Duras for quite a few years. I am glad I did.  I enjoyed this read even more than I did 30 years ago.  5 stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.