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The Lover by Marguerite Duras

The Lover (1984)

by Marguerite Duras

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,2371051,713 (3.71)1 / 112
  1. 00
    The North China Lover by Marguerite Duras (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: dieselbe Geschichte noch einmal erzählt
  2. 00
    Les Belles Images by Simone de Beauvoir (Cecilturtle)
    Cecilturtle: une éducation semblable bien que les choix soient différents
  3. 00
    The Sea Wall by Marguerite Duras (StevenTX)
    StevenTX: The same autobiographical story elements but with a great contrast in theme and style
  4. 00
    The Vice Consul by Marguerite Duras (Cecrow)

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The Lover is a novel rooted in time and place. The time is the era between the two World Wars, and the place is French Indochina. The lovers are a fifteen year old French girl and a twenty-eight year old Chinese man. The affair is known to both families and to the girl's school.

No one made an effort to stop it. The Chinese lover did attempt to legalize things by marrying the girl, but was repeatedly refused permission by his millionaire father, as adamantly opposed to what was considered a mixed marriage as was the French ruling class.

It is the girl who narrates the story years later. Although young when it all happened, she seemed to have the knowledge of the ages when it came to men and women, to have been born with it. She tell us At the age of fifteen I had the face of pleasure and yet I had no knowledge of pleasure. There was no mistaking that face. My mother must have seen it. My brothers did. That was how everything started for me -- with that flagrant, exhausted face, those rings around the eyes, in advance of time and experience.
The girl was alone in Saigon, attending French high school and staying at a boarding school. She had met the young man on a ferry crossing the Mekong. Emerging from his limousine, he approached the waif/seductress . From the first moment she knows more or less, knows he's at her mercy. And therefore that others besides him may be at her mercy too if the occasion arises. She knows something else too, that the time has now probably come when she can no longer escape certain duties toward herself. And that her mother will know nothing of this nor her brothers. She knows this now too. As soon as she got into the black car she knew: she's excluded from the family for the first time and forever. From now on they will no longer know what becomes of her. Whether she's taken away from them, carried off, wounded, spoiled, they will no longer know. Neither her mother nor her brothers. That is their fate henceforth. It's already enough to make you weep, here in the black limousine.

Now the child will have to reckon only with this man, the first, the one who introduced himself on the ferry.

This sense of inevitability, of doom, of loss, pervades the novel. Even the river on which they are travelling signals this. The river has picked up all it's met since Tonle Sap and the Cambodian forest.... no time for anything to sink, all is swept along by the deep and headlong storm of the inner current, suspended on the surface of the river's strength.
The girl's mother will first lose her house across the river in Cambodia, and years later will lose her final home in France to pay the gambling debts of her older son who has lost the family's money. The girl's younger brother will lose his life to pneumonia during the Japanese occupation. Even colour is lost, annihilated by the strength of the sun.

The connections between the lover and the girl is fragile. It only exists in the room to which he takes her each day after school. It cannot survive outside the room. When the girl has him take her and her brothers on expensive outings, they barely communicate until they are safe once more in their room.

Although the man believes he is desperately in love with the girl, she has no such illusions about him. This gives the reader a somewhat queasy feeling, as the fifteen year old rationalizes her relationship with the wealthy young man, fully believing that in just such ways will she continue to survive in the future. There is no compassion for the young man; perhaps a certain sense of comfort, even comraderie, but none of the passion he feels as he constantly weeps over her. Later, she speaks of the relationship as incestuous, with herself as the child and the lover as the father. There are other hints at incest. Her older brother is always spoken of as the murderer of her mother and younger brother. While not directly the case, he does exert a sinister control over them, which the girl says she has escaped.

The girl is capable of love and passion though. One of the few named people in the novel is her seventeen year old schoolmate Hélène Lagonelle. The girl obsessed over Hélène "...the most beautiful of all things given by God... I am worn out with desire for Hélène Lagonelle" However, Hélène was a simple soul, incapable of learning past primary school, unaware of the desire she aroused. One day the girl returned to school to find that she had lost Hélène too, the one person she cared about.

Eventually the girl was taken out of school to be sent to France. The affair ended, a new life began; a life related in the impersonal third person.

There is a dream like feeling throughout this highly autobiographical novel, a feeling of alternately floating and being submerged, which I suspect is even more powerful in the original French. Marguerite Duras was born in Indochina and did have an affair with a Chinese man. She moved to France as a young woman. She revisited and rewrote this affair many times throughout her life, publishing this version from the perspective of an older woman when she was seventy. It won the Prix Goncourt.
6 vote SassyLassy | Feb 25, 2015 |
I was very interested in reading The Lover after having watched the film and glad to enjoy the same tone of sadness and desire. I did find it a bit hard to follow at times and with an odd flip flopping of point of view, which I assume is intentional. This book is supposedly autobiographical and I imagine that Duras writes from the past as if seeing a ghost or image of herself, and uses "the girl" or "I" interchangeably. If you want something short, unique, and sensual on a rainy summer day, this is it. ( )
  LauraT81 | Jun 5, 2014 |
The light fell from the sky in cataracts of pure transparency, in torrents of silence and immobility. The air was blue, 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.It's books like these that reaffirm the passage of time for me. Not in any form of stunning realization, but more of an acknowledgement of changing sensibilities, that a mere year ago I would have been hard pressed to give this book more than three stars. Nowadays the 'liked it' still applies more than the 'really liked it', but as there is additional 'respected it', 'found value in it', and even some 'heightened worth of previous readings due to it' in the mix, the four stars are worth their weight in spirit if not in letter.

Despite my recent diet of the short and sweet in both sentence and page length, I'm still more of a fan of the larger range of depth and breadth. I've had a great deal of luck with [a:Jean Rhys|25022|Jean Rhys|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1240501946p2/25022.jpg] and others, but my appreciation still comes less readily when I have less material to work with. Here, the gems were fewer and farther between, and the brightness was lessened to the point that I began to wonder about efficacy of translations and even the potential worth of watching the movie to more fully appreciate the book. But no matter. I'm still eyeing that movie, but the book has enough going for it for my full appreciation to build upon my more simplistic 'like'.

French Indochina was a new world of literature for me, as was Duras' writing from a viewpoint both strange and familiar. The older man with younger woman/girl is a fictional trope that is uncomfortably common, but it is a rare thing when the narration is so fully subsumed in the latter. The pages make for a strange immersion of vague hints coupled with all too present pain, a butterfly dagger that flits and pierces through both fact and thought, rarely resting at a comfortable distance before spanning too wide or delving too deep. The necessity of conscious stringing together so many small beads on such a long and tenuous wire was frustrating at times, but the ending brought with it a cohesiveness of clarity that made the journey worthwhile, if not explicit.

However, I am still left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, most due to the Orientalism question looming large over the European portrayal of Asian characters. Whether the writing was riddled with stereotypes or otherwise is a question that I am currently powerless to answer, due to my little experience with such literature. In that, this book has proved a gateway drug to a realm that I now know needs exploring, preferably from the viewpoints of the cultures themselves. Much to my chagrin, I have only one Vietnamese work in my virtual shelves, so any recommendations along the lines of that as well as other cultures encompassed by the Indochina label would be most welcomed.

One last note: now that I've finished off Proust's ISoLT to a satisfactory extent, I see it everywhere. Whether 'tis a blessing or a curse is never to be decided. ( )
  Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
Shades of Lolita. Gag. ( )
  autumnesf | Dec 5, 2013 |
Autobiographical story of growing up in Vietnam. Her parents are teachers. The father dies and the mother stays. They are poor. The mother has a mental illness and doesn't really pay attention to the children. The oldest son steals everything from the family to support his drug habit. The girl, age 15, becomes a lover to a Chinese male.There is no connectivity to anything. She write emotionless and describes sex as something she is observing. Is she actually being sexually abused to support the family and no one does anything to stop it? ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marguerite Durasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bray, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kingston, Maxine HongIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prato Caruso, LeonellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Pour Bruno Nuytten
First words
Un jour, j'étais âgée déjà, dans le hall d'un lieu public, un homme est venu vers moi.
One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me.
I often think of the image only I can see now, and of which I've never spoken. It's always there, in the same silence, amazing. It's the only image of myself I like, the only one in which I recognize myself, in which I delight.
Very early in my life it was too late. It was already too late when I was eighteen. Between eighteen and twenty-five my face took off in a new direction. I grew old at eighteen
I acquired that drinker's face before I drank. Drink only confirmed it. The space for it existed in me.
I had the luck to have a mother desperate with a despair so unalloyed that sometimes even life's happiness, at its most poignant, couldn't quite make her forget it.
You always went home with the feeling of having experienced a sort of empty nightmare, of having spent a few hours as the guest of strangers with other guests who were strangers too, of having lived through a space of time without any consequences and without any cause, human or other.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Disambiguation notice
This is the 1984 book L'Amant, not to be confused with the 1971 book L'Amour.
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Book description
Set in the prewar Indochina of Dura’s childhood, The lover is the haunting tale of a relationship between two outcasts - an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover - during the waning days of the colonial period.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375700528, Paperback)

An international best-seller with more than one million copies in print and a winner of France's Prix Goncourt, The Lover has been acclaimed by critics all over the world since its first publication in 1984.

Set in the prewar Indochina of Marguerite Duras's childhood, this is the haunting tale of a tumultuous affair between an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. In spare yet luminous prose, Duras 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.

Long unavailable in hardcover, this edition of The Lover includes a new introduction by Maxine Hong Kingston that looks back at Duras's world from an intriguing new perspective--that of a visitor to Vietnam today.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:13 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The story of an affair between a fifteen-year-old French girl and her Chinese lover, set in prewar Indochina.

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