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Der Liebhaber by Marguerite Duras

Der Liebhaber (original 1984; edition 1991)

by Marguerite Duras

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3,7161241,407 (3.69)1 / 132
Title:Der Liebhaber
Authors:Marguerite Duras
Info:Suhrkamp, Ffm. (1991), Broschiert
Collections:Your library
Tags:erotica, other cultures, german

Work details

The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984)

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English (102)  French (7)  Dutch (2)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Italian (1)  All (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  All (122)
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THE LOVER, a novel by Marguerite Duras, is a book I've had on my to-read list ever since I read a review of the film adaptation more than twenty years ago. The book is probably autobiographical fiction, since I have read that almost all of Duras's books are based on her own life. The book was first published in 1984 and Duras died in 1996.

While I can visualize this as a very beautiful and hauntingly erotic film, the book itself seemed to me very disjointed and often redundant, as the unnamed French narrator tells of her affair, between the ages of 15 and 17, with a moneyed Chinese businessman a dozen years older. The story is set in French colonial Vietnam in the 1930s, but the narrator is telling it from a vantage point of more than fifty years later, and makes frequent references to the War years and beyond, as she unwinds the multilayered story of her very poor and dysfunctional family - a seriously bipolar mother and two older brothers, the oldest of whom is portrayed as irredeemably evil. The central story, however, revolves around the affair. There have, of course, been countless books written about such relationships, LOLITA being perhaps the most famous, but Duras's tale has a unique, dreamlike quality about it, which is both fascinating and annoying, probably because of its redundancy and frequent leaps forward and backward in time.

The setting is important to the book, and was even more important in the film adaptation, I suspect, as Duras describes the beauty of the countryside around Sadec, where the girl lives with her family, the Mekong Delta and the river that separates Sadec from the girls' school she attends in Saigon. And there is the crowded squalor of Cholon, Saigon's sprawling and bustling Chinatown, the location of the flat where the lover takes the girl for their frequent assignations.

But it is the eroticism itself that leaps out at you. The way the lover gently washes her before and after they make love. The lovemaking itself varies in its methods. Sometimes it seems dangerous -

"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 ..."

Or sometimes very gentle, as inthe way the girl describes her lover's body: "The skin is sumptuously soft. The body. The body is thin, lacking in strength, in muscle ... he's hairless, nothing masculine about him but his sex ... She touches him. Touches the softness of his sex, his skin, caresses his goldenness, the strange novelty. He moans, weeps. In dreadful love."

One wonders too about the exact nature of the narrator's sexual preferences, because of a passage where she describes a schoolmate, Helene Lagonelle, who, although older, may be a bit simple -

"... her skin's as soft as that of certain fruits ... These flour-white shapes, she bears them unknowingly, and offers them for hands to knead, for lips to eat, without holding them back, without any knowledge of them, and without any knowledge of their fabulous power. I'd like to eat Helene Lagonelle's breasts as he eats mine in the room in the Chinese town where I go every night to increase my knowledge of God. I'd like to devour and be devoured by those flour-white breasts of hers."

Erotic? Definitely. Obscene? No, not at all. My guess is that it is the delicious eroticism of the story that has made it a minor classic in France and Europe. Perhaps you have to be French to fully appreciate THE LOVER. I didn't love this book, but I'm glad I finally read it.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Dec 12, 2017 |
“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.” (90%)

The prose is so beautiful, so evocative, that I am immediately transported into the world of “The Lover”. I am glad I read the introduction, confusing as it was because it let me know two important things: 1. this novel is 'somewhat' autobiographical of the author and 2. the characters are mostly nameless.

Because it is written in the first person, you are immediately gripped by the narrator’s voice. The rawness of her emotion is palpable. The timeline isn’t clearly established, we keep jumping back and forth between different ages/memories of the narrator which can be jarring at times.

While reading about a 15-year-old engaging in a sexual relationship with a 27-year-old is deeply unsettling, because of the way the narrator tells the story, you can become confused and think of her as older than 15. I wonder if she engaged in sex as a way to combat the sadness she says she has always felt within her, a sadness that ages her young face and that is mirrored in the deep melancholy of her mother. It's truly heartbreaking.

As it is, the whole novel is accompanied by a sad, melancholic tone and it doesn't let up until you've finished the book. ( )
1 vote lapiccolina | Jun 23, 2017 |
I think I need to see the movie to appreciate this book. I picked it up because I was traveling in Cambodia at the time and was in the area the film was made. ( )
  brangwinn | Mar 25, 2017 |
Its an emotional book, shocking and at times a slightly disturbing book. But I continiued to read, wanting to know more and more. Hoping that the end was what I hoped. It wasn't, but that didnt stop me from enjoying this book. ( )
  Nataliec7 | Oct 31, 2016 |
A very strange, but interesting book.
It keeps on going, and going and going, without any pause. Full of repetitions of important events, that come along agsin and again as if in a stream of consciousness.
Describing persons, circumstances without really pinpointing them, a generalisation.
Not sure what else to write, other than that this book kind of eats its way in, it grabbed me, despite its unusual style and had quite a story to tell. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Aug 21, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (39 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marguerite Durasprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bray, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kingston, Maxine HongIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prato Caruso, LeonellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rakusa, IlmaTranslatorsecondary 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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is the 1984 book L'Amant, not to be confused with the 1971 book L'Amour.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.
Haiku summary

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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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