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?

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.


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.


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.

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.

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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


I went to the bookstore looking for A Spy in the House of Love by Anaïs Nin. When it wasn't in stock, one of the employees handed me The Lover, and said that Marguerite Duras wrote in a similar style. I read a few pages, bought the book, walked to a coffee shop, and read the rest in one sitting. I thought Duras' language, even in translation, was really beautiful, with haunting descriptions of her family members, her Chinese lover, and the landscape of prewar Indochina (where Duras grew up--the book is a novel, but apparently fairly autobiographical). Living in this woman's mind, for only a few hours, was a vivid escape--I felt sympathetic to her thought processes, even in an entirely foreign cultural, political, and physical landscape.

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.

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