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Der Liebhaber by Marguerite Duras

Der Liebhaber (original 1984; edition 1991)

by Marguerite Duras

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,8341241,953 (3.69)1 / 133
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 (103)  French (7)  Dutch (2)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  Portuguese (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (123)
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
I believe we all have memories like these – distant, random, mixed with pain, mixed with joy, a purposeful vagueness that is possibly self-induced. The thoughts are disclosed like word-puke, somewhat jumbled, non-linear, occasionally repetitive as though to reinforce the thought, colored with poetic prose, incomplete but the feeling is confirmed. This is what I felt reading Duras’ ‘The Lover’, an autobiographical novel of her youth in Saigon, particularly of her Lover.

It’s 1929. The fifteen-and-a-half-year-old girl is in Saigon with her mom, a headmistress in a local school who is a manic-depressive widow, an elder brother who is violent, cruel, and a thief, and an elder brother who is referred to as ‘younger brother’ who is kind and gentle but lives in fear of the elder brother’s fist. They are broke and are known as the ‘layabouts’. On a ferry, the girl meets a 30-something wealthy Chinese-Vietnamese that evolves into a year and a half affair. Though wealthy, he is controlled by his father who owns the family’s money and forbids any consideration of their union. The affair ends when she leaves Saigon returning to France.

The emotions are complex as I am sure it was for Duras then and at the time of writing (published in 1984) and for the reader. Needless to say, there is an ickiness with the underage relationship. But it’s more than that with a certain amount of reciprocation and desire on her part – he was her temporary (hours at a time) escape from her reality. She is not seeking pity, yet her words draw you into her darkness. There is an economy of words in her lack of details, but there is also an excess of words to provide a certain dreaminess, that poetic feeling. But as the reader, we know there is nothing pleasant here and that just adds to the ickiness. The narrator speaks of “I”, but also regularly speaks of the protagonist in the third person – the girl, the white girl, the girl with a man’s hat, as though these memories are detachments and denials, not of hers, not of her fifteen to seventeen-year-old self. She also wrote of her lust for her beautiful classmate, her best friend, lusting of her body, of her breasts. She recognizes her own sexual ‘perverseness’ but ignores her sexual confusion.

Perhaps the above is what makes this an award-winning book – that a nearly seventy-year old self can converge her complex teenage years into a haunting tale. Alas, it is not for me. Lastly, I was annoyed with the stereotype description of the Chinese male, his lack of masculinity, his softness, his weeping. Even though I know it’s her truth and likely the truth of that time, it’s still rather off-putting.

Some quotes:
On Beauty – and it’s one heck of a pickup line for a mature lady:
“One day, when I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said, ‘I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.”

On Desire:
“You didn’t have to attract desire. Either it was in the woman who aroused it or it didn’t exist. Either it was there at first glace or else it had never been. It was instant knowledge of sexual relationship or it was nothing. That too I knew before I experienced it.” ( )
  varwenea | Jun 2, 2018 |
There are flashes of poetic brilliance in ‘The Lover’, and it has a pretty strong ending, evoking sentimental memories of first love and time gone by. Unfortunately, the narrative style, which has Duras sifting through her memories and writing almost conversationally, is hit and miss. The story is of a fifteen year old French girl from a poor and dysfunctional family who has an affair with a Chinese man in his thirties in Saigon. At home, she has a bad relationship with her mother, her oldest brother is a profligate, and tragedy awaits her other brother. At boarding school, she fantasizes over another girl, and awaits being picked up by her lover’s limousine. Their physical relations give her pleasure, but there is a creepiness about them, beyond the fact that she’s underage. Overall, the book has a vagueness and a malaise to it, which was perhaps the intended effect, and honest to Duras’s true experience, as the book is autobiographical. It doesn’t always make for pleasant reading though.

On aging:
“One day, when I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said, ‘I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.”

On death:
“It was a mistake, and the momentary 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 visitation. It was a complete mistake. And the error, the outrage, filled the whole universe.” ( )
2 vote gbill | May 21, 2018 |
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 |
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 |
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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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Book description
Set in the prewar Indochina of Duras' 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)

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

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