The Lover

ISBN: 0375700528
ISBN 13: 9780375700521
By: Marguerite Duras Barbara Bray

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About this book

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.

Reader's Thoughts

Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

You go to an expensive restaurant in the Philippines. Occasionally you would see a big table where a large Filipino family is seated, ages varying from the old to the very young kids. In contrast with the other diners you would notice that this family does not look as if they could afford the restaurant's bill after they've eaten. When you notice this, look carefully. You would notice that among them would be a young Filipina girl, the prettiest, and somewhere near her would be a foreigner, most ofter a Japanese guy, much older than the girl. They are lovers and the foreigner is footing the bill. He's treating the girl's family to a feast, because he's feasting, in turn, with the girl's youth, beauty and fresh sexuality."In the evening, after school, the same black limousine, the same hat at once impudent and childlike, the same lame shoes, and away she goes, goes to have her body laid bare by the Chinese millionaire, he'll wash her under the shower, slowly, as she used to wash herself at home at her mother's, with cool water from a jar he keeps specially for her, and then he'll carry her, still wet, to the bed, he'll switch on the fan and kiss her more and more all over, and she'll keep asking again and again, and afterwards she'll go back to the boarding school, and no one to punish her, beat her, disfigure or insult her."The setting is Vietnam before the second world war, at the time the country was still a French colony. The female protagonist was the middle child of 3 siblings. He had two brothers. They were French and once well off but fell into poverty when the father died. When she was 15, she became the mistress of a wealthy Chinese 12 years her senior. There was a similar scene in the book when the family ate with the Chinese in an expensive restaurant.The book has for its cover a picture of the author when she was a young girl in 1932. I wonder: is this autobiographical?


I loved The Lover. Stylistically, thematically, and philosophically it is the kind of book I long to write. One problem - I'd have to be French to pull off some it's stances (postures?) Regardless, I feel like this is the sister book to Camus' The Stranger. It is well worth watching Hiroshima Mon Amour after reading for like the total Duras overload. I walked around able to read and speak French fluently for an entire afternoon afterward.


I learned that if you read 'The Lover' on the subway, men will look at you extra. Good to know.Update: Having finished the book, what I admire most about it is Duras' combination of verge-of-lurid subject matter with an utterly deadpan tone of voice. The latter makes the former possible, and the combination creates an impression of a very complicated character, a bad-ass woman who probably carries more pain and other difficult feelings than we'll ever know. The tone here is like 'a tell-all that tells you, primarily, how much you'll never understand.' It's almost the Frenchest thing I can possibly imagine.


This is my favorite book ever. I first came across the story when I was 13; baby-sitting one weekend at a neighbor's house. But I didn't actually read the book until I was 21 and it changed my life. Marguerite Duras's prose is so powerful that I have full paragraphs memorized. Each sentence is pure poetry. Not everyone will get it, but it hit me like a ligthening bolt. I felt like someone reached inside & took a look at my soul & then wrote my innermost secrets down. I love Marguerite Duras because she is not afraid to dig deep & then unveil the darker, sadder, but more real sides of her heart. I am not kidding - I love this book so much that I'll never forget it. But other people may not get hit with it like I did. "Very early in my life, it was too late" - Marguerite Duras


An astonishing novella of insight, Marguerite Duras depicts the controversial love affair between a pubescent French girl, and her older Chinese lover. Set against the backdrop of the tense French colonial vision, Duras' Saigon is oppressive, strange and juxtaposing. The novel is one of relationships and how that takes on physical space; not merely content with writing a novella on love, Duras explores imperialism, the family dynamic, and perhaps most importantly female sexuality. Having grown up and rarely seen a book which deals so frankly about such a large percentage of the population, I think this should be seminal reading for young girls, in the same way that 'Catcher in the Rye' captures a generation. However, unlike Salinger, this Prix-Goncourt winning novella is complex and beautiful, stylistically innovative, shifting in and out of retrospection, narrators, stories and points of view. There's a wonderful cinematic quality to the events - which would be apt because Duras wrote the much more famous screenplay for 'Hiroshima, Mon Amour' - and a very artistic approach to objects and scenes: the nameless narrator's distinct hat, her gold lamé shoes, the black limousine of her Chinese lover. The novella, short as it is, abounds in simplicity and evocative prose: the writing though simplistic is undoubtedly nouveau roman, on the heels of modernism, and able to carry with it the fresh, hypnotising take on a very old theme.

Vanessa Wu

I tried to read this in French and I was lost. It is so simple and short, I kept thinking. Why don't I understand it? Then I tried to read it in English. It was still really difficult for me. I was puzzled because I had read other books by Marguerite Duras and I understood them intuitively. Then it dawned on me that the reason this is so hard to understand is that it is intensely real. The author near the end of her life is carefully delivering to the world the painful and beautiful secrets that she has carried buried deep within her since childhood. I imagine each sentence took an age to write. Some are beautiful. Some are achingly sad. It is a book to be taken seriously. It is the very best kind of book.

MJ Nicholls

If you like lyrical romantic prose in staccato sentences, written in the literariest of all literary styles, this is the novella for you. If you don’t, this isn’t the novella for you. Me, I’ve read this story a million times before. Goodnight March.


I first picked this up a couple of years ago. I remember liking it but I didn't finish it, probably because it was due back at the library and I had fines already, that's usually the story of why I haven't finished a book. Anyway, without realising (and perhaps indirectly through that Écriture féminine stuff), Duras is enormously influential on how I write memoir. Particularly she's influenced how I write about sex - or not even sex but encounters in which there is some sense of eros, or erotic potential, however flimsy and remote. Last year I read The War for school and the stuff I wrote around that time has really clear flashes of her style. I don't know if Duras has a bisexual identity - I have assumed not, as I haven't found reference to it anywhere - but there is definitely a queer sensibility to her writing. I mean, it's hard to say if it's queer or feminist - like Anais Nin, she could be criticised for essentialising woman/female/femininity - but it is defiant and complex. She writes a female body that is both unavailable, and aggressive in its desire, and so vividly embodied in all its relations (where often women's bodies disappear except in relation to men's). This really appeals to me.I didn't like Maxine Hong Kingston's introduction in this edition though - I found it terribly gauche and sort of pointless.


I loved the strangeness of this woman's interior, her voice, the way such a slim volume can sum up an entire life, compelling and erotic and intellectual all at once.******************rereading... it's like craving a certain great dish and you know just who has it on the menu. Such assurance. I like the way Duras handles the point of view. It begins with an older voice, a woman looking back at her life, a particular moment of her life, and she uses the past tense, whereas when she is in the past, in the point of view of the girl she was, she uses the present tense. The kind of thing a writer gets a kick out of...I'd forgotten the way it opens, as the older woman thinks of her face, the ruined face which was already hers at 18, after the events which will unfold in the book. So much packed in to each small paragraph-long section, the resonance of each detail, the mystery of it.********************Such a short book, but a packs an amazing punch. Trying to figure out why. Odd small digressions about two acquaintances in Paris during the war, years after the events of the book, one of whom who turned out to be a collaborator. Sideways glances at the family drama, the poisonous older brother, the weak younger brother, the ambivalent mother, haunted by poverty, living out her life in the French colony of Indochine... but always oblique.Certain images burn brightly in my mind. Making love behind shutters in a crowded area of town, the voices of the people so close outside. The black limousine in which the Chinese lover, son of a millionaire, waits for the girl every day. The way the mother washes the house in the country out when she's overwhelmed by her own darkness-- a house built on stilts, it could just be sluiced clean, water poured on the floor in buckets, water pooling around the piano legs... And the girl on the ferry on the Mekong in the man's hat and gold lame shoes, waiting for her life to approach, the way that girls do. The strength of these discrete images is one reason, but there's something else, something more... I'd have to say it's the way the girl's coldness and matter-of-factness create the story's mystery. The narrator, the older self, has that same tone-- but if she was truly as cold as she presents herself, why would she be going back over this moment in her life, the moment that she became the woman she would be for the rest of her life? What is she searching for?The only likeable person in the book is the Chinese lover she all but destroys in his infatuation for her--not in an evil way, but just in the tough tough tough way of a young girl who has utterly accepted the world as it was presented to her. Her inability to love--or is it really an inability? Or is it something she cannot allow herself? So fascinating to see a young girl who isn't depicted as heady with romance--just the opposite. Here it's the man who can love, but he is weak, as she sees him, because he lacks cruelty, he is weak but he loves her "unto death." She does desire him, but it's funny that the girl can accept her desire, but insists she does not love him. And she is cruel, because she comes from a cruel family, a cruel colony, a cruel society, both aware of her privilege as a white girl in the East, and her shameful poverty. What is continually fascinating about this book is that a story of a love affair is rarely told from the point of view of the one who does not love. This girl would usually be the obscure object of desire, not the subject. The mood of doom and exoticism and desire is hard to shake.

Célia Loureiro

(Demorei dois dias a reunir 'material' para fazer esta review)Raramente me acontece estar perante uma situação/livro/discurso que não suscite nada em mim. Isto é, que não me indigne, nem fascine, nem horrorize, nem apaixone. Este livro, infelizmente, foi assim. Reconheço que está maravilhosamente escrito e que as reviravoltas textuais da cabeça da narradora, a própria rapariga branca, nos levam por labirintos existentes em nós próprios. Mas importar-me com ela? Não me importei. Nem com ela nem com a família dela. O irmão mais velho é um bandido. Conheço alguns assim; roubam à família para sustentar vícios, destroem-se e à família com o dito. O "irmãozinho" é um doce, demasiado fraco para erguer sequer a voz, sendo por isso o receptáculo de toda a ternura da irmã. A mãe destes três irmãos é um ser alheado, inconsistente por natureza, que não esconde que apenas ao filho mais velho tudo tolera. É uma mulher marcada pela perda do marido e pela malícia do filho mais velho. Esconde os seus bens nos lençóis de casa. A menina branca é ávida de viver e de aprender. Tirando este escandaloso caso com um chinês (que, apesar de milionário), objecto de grande preconceito e desdém por parte da sua família. Tem momentos de vulnerabilidade, mas nunca tive pena dela. Quanto ao chinês, ama-a e é por ela desprezado e humilhado ao sabor do humor oscilante da jovem de 15 anos. A história é compreensível, porque penso que nem a própria narradora sabe se o amava ou não. Começa o livro ao dizer que aos 18 anos já era tarde demais para si, o que me faz crer que já tinha deixado fugir-lhe a felicidade por entre os dedos. Também pode referir-se à velhice que diz que lhe tomara já o rosto, devido a todos os desgostos e angústias que a família lhe traz. De momento fiquei sem o bichinho de ler mais Marguerite Duras. Vejamos no futuro.Baixei a classificação 2 dias depois de 4 para 3,5. Isto é: o livro é bonito em termos literários, por vezes entrei em comunhão com os sentimentos das personagens. Mas não voltei a pensar neles.


My friend Khira recommended this book to me, and that alone assured that it would be beautifully written--both frank and lyrical. It took me a moment to settle into Duras' writing (or the translator's interpretation) because it's very fragmented. Duras tells her story through many moments and thoughts built on one another, which can feel unbalanced, like a conversation with a drunkard who assumes you can follow her poetic thoughts from one to the next by sheer force of concentration. But once I had enough pieces put together to begin constructing a framework (the remembrances of a French woman when she was young, living with her family, impoverished in Vietnam), I found the book incredibly satisfying. Duras jumps around through time, and like the conversation with the drunkard, maybe you can understand the whole picture if you place your attention not on the details but the feelings. When I finished the book I felt very content, even though I'm not sure there was any resolution; I'm not sure what Duras learned from her hindsight through writing about her romance with the hairless, troubled Chinese man. I didn't learn much about Saigon. In fact, it felt inconsequential that the story was set in Vietnam. It mattered more that her mother was displaced and that they were very poor. So why did I feel satisfied? Because there's something rewarding about reading the thoughts of a person so acutely able to articulate her feelings. It's inspiring. And it's something that I don't want to read for 400 pages--just long enough to feel amazed and self-reflective.

Ron Palmer

I finally finished Marguerite Duras' "The Lover." Why did it take me this long to read a 117-page novel? (I posted it on my currently-reading shelf on Feb. 25th). [HINT: It is not because I didn't want it to end.]Was it the nature of the writing: random, unconnected musings by une femme d'un certain age of her colonial adolescence? Was it the frustrating way she shifted subjects, time, and place at will? Maybe it is the movie-lover in me (I don't want to reveal too much about myself ( But I kept thinking this novel would work better as a screenplay, a la Alain Resnais' "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" (about a French woman's affair with an Asian man). Then I remembered: that was also written by Mme. Duras!As a film, the story sharpens its focus on the two lovers, while dispensing with the 'crazy mother' subplot that much too often interrupts the flow of the narrative. In short: the movie was better.


Dramatic,intense memories of an aging Frenchwoman with emphasis on her teens.They unfold during the 1920s and -30s in French Indo-China,today's Laos,Vietnam and Cambodia. The father,a senior colonial official died when she was a toddler.What remained was a family from hell,headed by a mother who does everything wrong.Her dissolute,elder son who is her favorite,terrorizes her younger son and daughter.A headless,autistic family emerges whose members do not talk with,look at,or greet each other.But the elder brother and Mother beat up the younger daughter and son routinely amidst deepening poverty.Because of the mother's terrible investments.Because of her firstborn's bad karma;he steals even from the servants.On a ferry across the Mekong river,the teenage narrator is invited by a 27-years old Chinese millionaire and is driven to her boarding school in his large,black,chauffeur-driven car.What follows reveals Duras' powers of description,which served her well as a movie director in later life.The white 15½-year old,skinny,weirdly-dressed girl and the Chinese man begin an affair.He is obsessed with her but his father has long ago arranged his marriage.She does not love him,but enjoys the near-death climaxes of their encounters and has vague hopes all this will open a window of opportunity: she has willfully chosen a fate the ruling whites in the colony disapprove of.In school,it isolates her more than ever before.Her aim?Who knows?Fleeing mother and the devilish brother,the heat,the hopeless poverty and life's chaos to some quiet,secure place to write about her ordeal,then about other,new experiences?Respecting French literature made into movies,I saw a movie a few days ago in which the very author of this work is also the author of a film shot in 1975,which has the same kind of the finished book read for me.Source: Song,1975 - Marguerite Duras - Film DirectorMarguérite Duras (1914-96) was a novelist,scriptwriter,playwright and film director.The version in front of you became a successful movie in 1992,despite a conflict between Duras and its makers: shortly before its première she published "The North China Lover",another version of her formative years...Grand,small novel filled with deep anger and hatred. Marguerite Duraswas so troubled,speechless in disgust about her youth,that it took her several efforts to put it all on paper.To be read more than once.

Remittance Girl

It is extremely difficult for me to give this book an adequate review because, as a writer of erotic fiction, its interiority and opentextedness, its subtle and powerful eroticism (not of the love affair, but of the entire atmosphere of the novel) were formative for me as a writer.There is a spare and adamantine beauty to the prose that is both immersive and yet, somehow, leaves enough space for the reader to breathe inside the text. It is worth mentioning that the book is not erotic in the way the film is. It's haunted with a sense of despair. And that's really where its eroticism lies.I have used it often as an exemplar for why setting and circumstance are the most effective ways to lay bare a character and render them vulnerable to the eroticism that follows. I've also used it as an example of why many erotic novels start too late in the story to really fully explore the dynamics of choice. Finally, it is a great example of how it is desire that fuels eroticism, not sex.I don't believe anyone would ever feel they'd wasted their time reading this book.


L'Amant looks simple on the surface. Marguerite Duras, about 70 when she wrote it, tells you about her first affair, with a rich Chinese man. She was a fifteen year old girl in colonial-era Vietnam, he was a dozen years older. Her family was desperately poor. Her mentally ill mother tacitly condoned the relationship; Marguerite's lover was generous, and they needed the money. Then she screamed at her daughter and beat her. The language is plain, unadorned and impersonal, stripped to its bare essentials. Sometimes I almost felt I was reading a math text. The author is not trying to tell you a love story or complain about how fate, her lover or her family mistreated her. She just wants to write down what happened and make peace with it. The result is a beautiful and deeply affecting book.I wish I could write something like this. I thought back to things that had happened to me when I was a teenager and I tried to write about them the way Duras did, and I couldn't do it. I can't detach enough. I can't be sufficiently objective. I can't stop myself from judging or interpreting.Here's a fragment, one piece I can see clearly. I hadn't seen my lover for some weeks; she had been sent overseas by her parents. Maybe it was because they disapproved of our relationship. I went to visit her. She came to meet me at the station. We went to a cheap hotel. We took our clothes off and got into bed. I held her, and she told me she had been unfaithful. There was a boy who was so stricken with her; she'd been unable to refuse him. I said it didn't matter. Then she said that there was a second man, older, a martial arts instructor. She was sleeping with him regularly. She said it was different from other relationships she'd had; the sex was different. I asked how. Sometimes, she said, he just entered her, no foreplay, nothing, and that was somehow special. I said it was good to hold her. I could feel her body telling me that she still loved me. She said that she wasn't telling me anything. We pulled apart and got dressed, and we never slept together again.Some day, I might be able to tell the whole story and explain how it wasn't her fault, or mine. It just came out that way.

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