Dan Gunn at the Times Literary Supplement:
Duras was born in April 1914, and her centenary year has been marked in France by a proliferation of publications, most important of which by far are the final two instalments in the superb four-volume Pléiade edition of herOeuvres complètes. Few Duras enthusiasts would place L’Amant quite at the centre of the canon. Yet it is hard to imagine the degree of attention Duras is currently commanding in France, or the fascination with every detail of her biography, without it. Three pages intoL’Amant, the narrator announces: “L’histoire de ma vie n’existe pas. Ça n’existe pas”. The remaining pages serve to qualify this assertion, establishing a life recollected not as a continuum but as a series of pulsations, with crucial moments vividly returning, almost like the snapshots which Duras claims were the novel’s instigation. The intervals between the moments disappear, as does continuity, allowing the early experience to spurt back into the present. By 1984, when L’Amant was published, the elements of that life were already well known, not least through the first of Duras’s great autobiographical fictions, Un Barrage contre le Pacifique (1950): the colonial childhood in French Indochina; the early death of the father with the consequent indigence of his wife and children; the hopeless attempt to revive the family fortunes through purchase of a disastrously infertile piece of land; the two brothers, the elder of whom was violent and criminal, the younger of whom needed protecting; above all the stark emotional unavailability of the mother, wrapped up as she was in her financial woes, her loss of social status, her infatuation with her abusive first-born son.