THE LOVER is a frugal mosaic of a book. In it, the author juxtaposes various aspects of her life, dwelling on a scene from her childhood, jumping suddenly to the present or near past, then finding her way back again. The central story of the novel tells of a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl living in Indochina before the war. Her father is dead, her mother worries about money. The girl has two brothers, the older, a monstrous egoist, the younger, lovable and sensitive.
One day, on a ferry across a branch of the Mekong River, the girl meets a wealthy Chinese man in a limousine. Urbane, almost feminine, the man gives the girl a ride to school. Soon after, he takes her to his posh modern home. She knows all along that he is intensely attracted to her. Coolly, almost without feeling, she asks him to make love to her, and he does.
The remainder of the novel deals with the effects of this love affair on the young girl. At boarding school, the girl finds herself saturated in a heavy sensuality, wanting to devour a naive girlfriend the way her Chinese lover devours her. The heroine’s family is almost accepting of the love affair, because the Chinese man has money. They allow him to take them out for expensive meals, during which they treat him as if he is a specter sitting among them. Ultimately, it is the Chinese man’s father who disapproves.
By focusing its attention so raptly on the girl and her devoted suitor, THE LOVER manages to evoke a heavily sensual atmosphere, rich with exoticism and laced with despair. Everyone has a sense of doom, from the miasmic, frustrated family of the girl to the trembling, refined lover. Cryptic and fatalistic, Duras offers neither an analysis of race relations in Indochina nor a bracing, lively narrative. Rather, she has boiled the material of her novel down to its essence. It is a scant brew but a heady one.
Annan, Gabriele. “Saigon Mon Amour.” New York Review of Books, June 27, 1985, 11-12. Concisely restates many of the major critical arguments both for and against the novel.
Callahan, Anne. “Vagabondage: Duras.” In Remains to Be Seen: Essays on Marguerite Duras, compiled by Sanford Scribner Ames. New York: Peter Lang, 1988. Readable scholarly essay that celebrates The Lover as a groundbreaking work of feminist erotica. Part of a section that includes three other essays on The Lover.
Cusset, Catherine, et al. “Marguerite Duras.” Yale French Studies, Fall, 1988, 61-64. Beginning with a useful and brief biography of Duras, Cusset notes the reception of L’Amant as a determining factor in increasing Duras’ reading audience. Cusset identifies the autobiographical basis of surging waters as a central image in Duras’ works (the dam that was destroyed by the Pacific Ocean allowed the family’s land in Vietnam to be flooded and useless). Cusset briefly discusses silence and loss of identity in the works.
Duras, Marguerite, and Xaviere Gauthier. Woman to Woman. Translated by Katharine A. Jensen. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. These interviews were begun as an assignment in Le Monde (a French magazine) in 1974. In five different interviews, Gauthier and Duras discuss writing and feminism, among many other related topics. Duras’ discussion of syntax will be especially interesting to readers of her novels. Especially useful is the afterword that discusses the cultural context within which Duras writes.
Fineberg, Roberta. “Learning of Love.” Saturday Review, May-June, 1985, 12. This brief review of The Lover notes the autobiographical plot parallels, the hypnotic language, and the adult desire that takes over the narrator’s life as a teenager. Fineberg documents the near veneration of Duras by French coeds at a cocktail reception in Paris, noting a brief conversation she had with the author. A fine picture of Duras appears with the article.
Glassman, Deborah N. Marguerite Duras: Fascinating Vision and Narrative Cure . London: Associated University Presses, 1991. Contains...
(The entire section is 960 words.)