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


I had heard so much about this book that characterized it as an erotic masterpiece, an ode to passion and the story of a doomed cross-cultural romance—but in fact most of the book is about the author’s hatred of her mother and her older brother. And while the sexual aspect of her love affair is central to the story, the descriptions are muted and very understated. Indeed, the romance is profoundly one-sided and the narrator only belatedly wonders if in fact she loved him at all. Most of the book’s energy derives from her vicious attacks on her manic-depressive mother and her morally corrupt monster of an elder brother, whom she describes as a killer, a hunter and a murderer—blaming him for the death of her younger brother, although how he was responsible is never made clear. So vivid and fierce is her bitterness and hatred for her mother and brother that it largely eclipses the more vaguely articulated love affair and indeed relegates the lover as a secondary character in a dim side-story. The writing varies from marvelous, haunting prose to muddled and awkward philosophizing on life and death, frequently incomprehensible and repetitive. As a backdrop, French Indochina of the 1930s is portrayed both lovingly and with contempt, and the French colonial apartheid treated as a normal way of life. Marguerite Duras’ own self-disdain is evident on every page. I’m baffled that this book was such a grand success, even given the different tastes prevalent in 1984, or that it was made into such a fine film, which correctly ignored the negativity and focused on the passion. For me it was a monumental disappointment.

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.


This is what they mean when they say, "lush prose."


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.


The narrative is highly convoluted, emphasizing that life has no singular line, no linear pattern. The prose is a mosaic, digressive and allusive, setting the stage for a story told in retrospect of the adolescence of a French girl in Saigon, poor, interruptedly educated, living with her mother who seems bipolar and younger brother, her older brother having been sent to school in France. Telling her story in the first person, the narrator, speaking as an old woman in France, confesses that her life was shaped by drink and desire. The style at the beginning is almost like a rambling set of reminiscences, gradually circling inward to focus on a particular day when she was fifteen and a half, on a ferry going to Saigon. It is striking that so many of the narrator’s descriptions of herself involve her appearance – her hair, her bodily characteristics, her clothing, her physical sensations. Granted that these may be the preoccupations of a mid-adolescent, these are the descriptions of an elderly lady remembering events from her youth, and I might have expected more interest or insights into her emotionally responses to her life at that time. She has a curious way of alternating between past and present tenses, the former usually referring to times before she was fifteen and a half, the latter referring to her experiences at that age. She also alternates telling her story between using first- and third-person narrative, although the former predominates.Her relationship with her mother is characterized by ambivalence, love alternating with hate, and that is consistent with a person of her age, I think. First her younger brother dies, then, after WWII, her mother. By the time of the story her older brother, her last surviving family member and a sociopath, is dead too. She neither misses nor loves them any longer, her love having died with her younger brother. On the ferry that day, the ferry to Saigon, she is approached by a rich young Chinese man. Realizing her power over him, she enters his limousine and goes with him, her life changing in that moment. Why does this happen? Why does she let it happen? She recalls feeling fated, as if the time had come for something like this to happen, for her to leave her family irrevocably. Of course they become lovers (although that is a bit of a misnomer, since the narrator adamantly refuses to let “love” be a component of the relationship), but the becoming so for her involves a strange passivity on her part, a fatedness, even as she is aware that her power over him is supreme. The characters, who are never named, seem almost archetypal. Relationships are primal, physical and sensual, mixed on the part of the narrator with the practical awareness that she is attracted not only by physical desire but by wealth, her background of physical impoverishment making that attraction understandable.In interactions between her family and her lover, issues of race block all possibility of mutual understanding. The narrator in these situations is pulled in both directions, becoming a person other than who she is with either alone. Duras is very perceptive about the psychology governing these encounters and responses. Her family members themselves interact among themselves only with difficulty, all three siblings loving the increasingly despondent and immobilized mother but seemingly abhorring each other, except for the girl and her younger brother who are important to each other. Do the difficulties with love, intimacy, and dependency within the family make the narrator vulnerable to difficulties in her relationships with people outside the family, especially to her seeking an odd kind of impersonal sexual relationship, one focusing on physicality without emotional ties? The narrator later becomes consumed with desire for a fellow classmate, Helene Lagonelle, desiring not only her body but for Helene to make love to the Chinese. The narrative increasingly breaks down into short choppy paragraphs, small musings and memories, often apparently unrelated to each other. Now she wants to grow up to be a writer. Now she is with her lover. Now she thinks of Helene. And then Helene disappears from the story.Nearing the end, the story suggests subliminal issues of incest and pedophilia. And one begins to understand that the intense desire for physical pleasure, for the submersion of self in sensuality, is a denial of both external everyday reality and also, in a strange way, of death itself, even as, paradoxically, death sometimes seems desirable. At times the narrative seems to be a study of the moral deterioration of the French, and by extension of any colonial power, in one of their colonies. It certainly is an examination of racial politics. But one senses that there is something more primordial than this, a sense that the novel is an actual experiencing of a transition from childhood to adulthood in the context of a unique and absolutely individual life, a life that is a product of both circumstances and her response to those circumstances. And one of Duras’ accomplishments is her ability to universalize this single life story, to tap into feelings and experiences of her readers such that the story becomes part each reader, even resurrecting memories and feelings buried deep in the past, far down in the individual psyche. This is an odd and compelling work, well worth reading, a work whose prose is beautiful, poetic, and often spell-binding.

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.


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.


So I have a problem with fiction. A problem with voices, really--I don't like a lot of them. The result is that I tend to read the same novels over and over. Well, honestly, I tend to read Jane Austen novels over and over. But this has me going. A brilliantly perverse description of a young girl's outfit (just before her first seduction) opens the novella, and. . . well. . . take it from there. . . so far, delicious.I finished this and turned it over and read the first few pages again. One of those short books that is not a small book, The Lover is not only about a love relationship--it is about a woman, growing up, appearance, colonialism, difference, family, and so on. The experience spreads out beyond the pages of the book.

Ian Paganus

DesireThe first time ever I saw your face was on the ferry.I had my head buried in a copy of the South China Morning Post. My father had said, if I read it every day, I would learn about the world around us, and his boy would become a man. Only then would I be ready to take over the family business after him.He was right, in his way. I was thin and soft and naïve, even though I had just returned from two years in Paris. I was still a boy, at 28. I’m sure I would have continued as a boy, unless I had met you.I had slept with many girls in Paris, and I bedded plenty more after you, before I married my wife, a virgin until our wedding night. But I didn't sleep with any of these girls out of love or even desire. I fucked them because I could. They came to me eager to be fucked, and we all knew the reason, my family’s wealth and increasing prominence in Saigon. They all came to me, because they wanted something that my father had.My father was not an egotistical man. He did not display pride or shame. He did everything out of duty, even make money, buy property, run a department store and build wealth. But when it came to the girls I slept with (not you), and he always found out about them, he took some delight in my sexual activity. No matter how attractive each one was, he knew that by sleeping with them, I was actually disqualifying them from the race to be my wife and share his wealth. Everyone I slept with narrowed it down to the one I would eventually marry.I looked up from the Post, some article on inflation, and I saw you taking a seat opposite me. I gazed at you longer than I should have.Everything about you was wrong. You were Caucasian, white, 15 ½ years old, slim, you were wearing a flowing dress that alternately swayed in the breeze or clung to your body, outlining and highlighting your petite breasts. And you were wearing a man’s fedora and gold shoes.Once I took all of this in, I tried to resume reading the Post. I was looking down at the page, but I couldn’t distinguish a single word, I was thinking of you and I was shaking. Like a boy.Later the same week, we happened to be on the same ferry again. I didn’t see you on board, but when my father’s driver (until recently, when he retired, my driver) opened the door to the limousine, I noticed that you were standing near the waterline, apparently deciding what you would do next.I went up to you, determined to offer you a ride in my car, I mean my father’s car. You were apprehensive at first, but I reassured you of my good faith, and you decided to accept. It helped that I was shaking the whole way through our brief discussion.While we were talking, we stood side on, so that my driver could see both of us, the sides of our faces and the hints of nervous smiles. Something must have touched him, unless he did it out of a sense of duty to my father, for he took a photo of us that day.He gave it to me when he retired 10 years ago. I have carried it with me, in my wallet, every day since then. Until today, I haven’t pulled it out and looked at it again. I didn’t need to. That moment, in my eyes, has been engraved in my mind for fifty years. The only difference is that the image confirms that I was there, that it wasn’t all in my imagination, you can see both of us. The image is true, and so now is my memory. Only I’m not sure whether I ever wanted to be reminded. It’s not that the photo reminds me of a time when I was a boy. After all, it was you who made me a man, not reading the Post.Like my father before me, I am a man of duty. I have faithfully taken care of my wife, my family, my family’s business. Everything has grown under my watchful and caring eye. I have done the right thing, and I will die a contented man, if contentment is what I am looking for.No, what that photo and that moment remind me of is my capacity for desire. It is something I eliminated from my field of vision after we parted company, at my parents’ insistence, and you returned to Paris, I thought, with your mother.I already knew the rudimentary mechanics of sex when we stood before each other, a skinny Chinese boy and a skinny French girl, in my bedroom for the first time. As I had done before, I was shaking. Even my tentative erection looked as if it might shake off and fall to the floor. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny then.Until I met you, I had been lonely. I was even lonelier after I had met you, because of the obsessive love I had for you.You said, “I’d rather you didn’t love me, but if you do, I’d like you to do as you usually do with women.”I asked, “Is that what you want?”You nodded. Still I knew that you would never love me, that you could never love me.I said, “You’ve come here with me as you might have gone anywhere with anyone.”You replied, “I can’t say, so far I’ve never gone into a bedroom with anyone.”You begged me, again, to do what I usually did with the women I brought to my room.I did my best to comply. Although you were a virgin, I made love to you the way you directed me to. It was different to how I normally did it, well there was one difference, I wept while we made love.The driver soon learned about you, and so did my father. He could tell I felt differently about you, that I wasn’t disqualifying you, that I wanted to marry this white girl, even though you would never love me in return.He made his position very clear.“I will not let my son marry this little white whore from Sadec.”I tried to obliterate his attitude from my thinking. But it must have affected me subliminally. In bed, as we fucked more and more passionately, I would call out, “My whore, my slut, you are my only love.” And you and I and my cum and your juices and our sweat would be swept up in a torrent of desire.For a long time, it seemed as if that torrent would never stop. I didn’t know where the waters sprang from, but I definitely didn’t know where they were heading.My father did, and so he built a dam that would contain the flow, and one day the torrent just stopped.Loving you had made me a man, he knew that, as I did, and although we disagreed wildly, I was reconciled to my future in the family business.As my father loosened his grip on the reins and handed them over to me, I expanded to two and then eventually five department stores, and then years later with such a solid foundation, I started investing in shopping centres in Australia, until my family became the largest private holder of retail real estate in the country.Like my father, I am not an egotistical man or a proud one. I do this because of duty. But there was a moment when I contented myself with a smile. I had just signed a contract to purchase a centre in Australia for A$30 million. I signed a cheque for a A$3M deposit and gave it to the Vendor’s lawyer. A youngish fellow, he decided to phone my banker and ask whether I had sufficient funds in my account to clear the cheque. The banker asked what the total sale price was. The lawyer answered, and my banker laughed. “There are enough funds in this account to pay the entire sale price in cash.”The lawyer turned to me, squeamishly, and declared that we had a deal. I said, “I was under the impression we had a deal before you phoned my bank.”I enquired after that lawyer once. It turned out he had married one of my property managers and was now running a coffee shop, ironically in one of my centres.I have two daughters. They run our portfolio, and they do a more professional job of it than either I or my father ever did.Perhaps, my father was better at taking risks than they are, but to be honest they are pretty good at it. I am proud of them, and he would be too. They have married well, and have given me four beautiful grandchildren.As I said, I have carried our photo in my wallet for many years, ever since I learned of its existence.Any other man in my position would possibly say that they had everything that they had ever desired.For me, that is true, except in one sense that I have tried to overlook for fifty years.I once desired you, that skinny white French girl in the fedora. I desired you with an intensity that I cannot find words to describe.I have tried to rationalise and deny that desire. I’ve tried to convince myself that I only ever desired you once. And that is actually the truth. I did only desire you once, but that one occasion has lasted fifty years.Now that I am about to die, or think I am, and my family will soon gather around me to say their farewells, I must take a match to this photo and set it alight, like you once set me alight, and perhaps, I will never know, perhaps I also set you alight, if not for as long.My favourite nurse just brought me an ashtray and a cigarette lighter. It took me two or three attempts to burn this image. It didn’t seem to want to go.But now it is finished and there are only ashes in the tray, and my failing memory, and when I die and it too goes, there will be nothing left of our desire. Mural at the Pawpaw Cafe attached to the Brisbane Restaurant "Green Papaya"


Margareth Duras is a long poem, in different books with different verses. با نام دوراس "سوزان سونتاگ"، و با نام سونتاگ، "مارگریت دوراس" تداعی می شود. تصور می کنم دوراس را هر زنی باید بخواند، و البته هر مردی هم. دوراس "سیمون دو بوار"ی دیگر است، با همان بی پروایی، جسارت و صلابت، اما زنانه و ظریف. برای خواندن و فهمیدن دوراس، باید حوصله و دقت داشت، همان اندازه که برای خواندن ویرجینیا وولف. بسیاری از آثار مارگریت دوراس به همت قاسم رویین به فارسی برگردانده شده. "تابستان 80"، "بحر مکتوب"، "درد"، "نایب کنسول"، "نوشتن"، "همین و تمام"، "باغ گذر"، "باران تابستان"، "عاشق" و البته یکی از شاهکارهایش "مدراتو کانتابیله" توسط رضا سیدحسینی ترجمه شده و "می گوید؛ ویران کن" را خانم فریده زندیه به فارسی برگردانده است. تا آنجا که یادم هست، "هیروشیما، عشق من" نیز سال ها پیش و احتمالن توسط "هوشنگ طاهری" به فارسی ترجمه شده. کتابی که دیگر هیچ خطی از آن به یادم نمانده با این نام، صحنه های فیلم "آلن رنه" با بازی "امانوئل ورا" در خاطرم زنده می شود، فیلمی که در 1959 بر مبنای این رمان کوتاه دوراس، ساخته شده است.


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


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.

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.


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.

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