The Lover/Marguerite Duras: Reflections

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"I read The Lover to be Marguerite Duras writing about herself," Maxine Hong Kingston posits in her introduction to this classic book labeled "Fiction." Vivian Gornick, too, writes of the book as if it is a memoir, of course a memoir, and everything we know about Duras suggests that memoir was the author's madness and method.

This is, after all, the story of a young, nearly impoverished French girl, fifteen, who conducts an illicit affair with a much older Chinese lover—determinedly, provocatively, in full awareness of the costs, just as Duras did. It involves an unstable mother and two brothers, one of whom Duras refers to as the murderer, the other as the martyred; here biography again asserts itself. The setting is prewar Indochina, where Duras was born and lived until she went to France to study. And a returning, angry, consoling theme is the unnamed narrator's wish to be a writer.

Labeled fiction. But.

I will take this as memoir, too. I will take it as memoir and I will add it to my list of books that teach those who seek to wrestle the form (in past tense, in present tense, in third person, in first). The Lover is a fierce, slender book—forthright and obscuring, declarative and confused, angry and proud. It feels like a book written in a single rush, a mirror of the remembering mind at work. This could be true, this may be true, this was true, and that was me, but that was me then. We haul our past lives forward in this life. We look around and there are multiples.

And once we were young. And once we thought we would not have to forgive or not have to love any one person more than we love ourselves. Among the many things The Lover is about is the knowledge we gain too late in life.

Which is why this book should be read by the young.

An excerpt from a story that folds in upon itself, then unfolds, that yields genre-less wisdoms like these:
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. It doesn't ever announce itself as such—it's duplicity itself.... It's while being lived that life is immortal, while it's still alive.
For more thoughts on memoirs, memoir making, and prompt exercises, please visit my dedicated Handling the Truth page.


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