The unnamed narrator and her husband are caught in a meaningless relationship. A writer, she intends to attempt again what she has failed to accomplish before--that is, to write the story of their relationship. Thinking the task impossible because she can never portray accurately what each of them has brought to or taken from the relationship, her husband wants her to abandon the project.
Instead of writing directly about her own marriage, the narrator focuses on an aged British couple habitually drinking in a cafe in Ouillebeuf, France, where both couples are at the end of one summer. The husband is owner and captain of a yacht, the wife a heavy drinker who seldom speaks. Although the two couples never interact, the narrator becomes so fascinated with the British woman that she creates a history for the couple that reflects her relationship to her own husband and provides a vehicle for conveying the essence of her own marriage.
The British woman, the narrator imagines, is a poet kept by her father and husband from fully realizing her talents; her finest poem remains unfinished because her husband burned the first draft after discovering there was no mention in it of him. The narrator borrows this poem from Emily Dickinson (“There’s a certain Slant of light”). Not surprisingly, the narrator names the British woman Emily L. She, Dickinson, and the narrator have at least one thing in common, according to Marguerite Duras: Men have afflicted them with obscurity and fear.