Critical Context

Duras is often included in the group of French New Novelists, along with writers such as Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Nathalie Sarraute, and their work does share some important features. The cinematic feeling of her work is characteristic of these writers, and The Lover is composed of a comparatively small number of carefully detailed short scenes, alternating between the time of the affair and various later periods up to the narrator’s present, often repeated with slight variations or from different points of view and following one another without transitions. Nevertheless, her emphasis on exploring feelings rather than ideas clearly diverges from the more theoretical concerns of these other New Novelists.

Although it is a very short novel, The Lover manages to introduce most of the major concerns that have dominated Duras’ writings: erotic love and its close relation to destructiveness, the pain of familial relations, and the interrelatedness of personal problems and political beliefs. The reception of L’Amant, the original French version of The Lover, was perhaps the greatest triumph of Duras’ long and distinguished career, which has included nearly fifty novels, film scripts, and plays, as well as film directing. The novel was both a popular and a critical success, selling more than 700,000 copies and winning France’s most prestigious award for fiction, the Prix Goncourt. Most American reviewers reacted with comparable enthusiasm. Although The Lover was not as popular in the United States as in France, it spent several weeks on the best-seller lists and became, for the American public, Duras’ best-known work since her screenplay for Alain Resnais’ film Hiroshima mon amour (1959).