Reading Marguerite Duras, with and against her self

Download (2)J. W. McCormack at The Baffler:

THREE-HUNDRED-AND-SEVENTY PAGES OF ENDNOTES would be excessive for most novels, let alone one that runs to just under one-hundred pages by itself, but that is how we are invited to view the new Everyman’s Library edition of Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, which comes packaged with her Wartime Notebooks and an essay collection, Practicalities. These supplementary texts contain the astonishingly accomplished French novelist, screenwriter, and director’s reflections on her films, her association with the Resistance and later the PFC (the French Communist Party), fragments of aborted novels, and records of her long struggle with alcoholism—but it is around The Lover that everything revolves, as we return again and again to the 1920s Indochina (now Vietnam) of Duras’s youth and the transformative affair with a much older, wealthy Asian man (Chinese in the novel, Vietnamese in the journals, and prefiguring the Japanese lover of Duras’s screenplay for 1959’s Hiroshima Mon Amour) that forms the basis of the novel, written when its author was seventy years old. The result is a book that flows out of itself, gradually decompressing the layers of memory, fiction, and history—though it is none of these things altogether—packed into The Lover’s pithily enigmatic prose, which disarms from one of its much-quoted opening lines: “Very early in my life it was too late.”

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