Published in 1984, L'Amant (The Lover) is a novel by the French writer Marguerite Duras. The narrative, which centers around the experience of a 15-year-old French girl who's attending boarding school in Saigon, is based on the real-life story of its author.
Let's look at some key quotations from the book and talk about why they're significant.
Very early in my life it was too late. It was already too late when I was eighteen. Between eighteen and twenty-five my face took off in a new direction. I grew old at eighteen.
This quotation is from the first page of the book (the third paragraph, to be specific). The narrator, who is now an older woman looking back at her youth, is talking about her own self-image and how it has changed with time. She says that her aging process was "very sudden," and that she "saw it spread over [her] features one by one."
How did her face change, though? She looked sadder as she grew older, the narrator explains. Right off the bat, as readers, we know we're dealing with a serious and melancholy sort of narrator, and someone who is quite concerned with her own image and how other people see her. Most women aren't concerned with aging when they're only 18 years old. But this narrator was. Her reflections on the passage of time recur throughout the book, as in the next quote:
It's while it's being lived that life is immortal, while it's still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it's not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It's as untrue to say it's without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.
This passage is from later in the book. Keep in mind that the novel is told from the perspective of a mature woman looking back on her youth, when she was 15 and 16 years old. She understands time and the significance of life differently as she ages, and she looks back on her youthful experiences through a different lens. This passage also reveals that the character is quite philosophical.
He takes her as he would his own child. He’d take his own child the same way. He plays with his child’s body, turns it over, covers his face with it, his lips, his eyes. And she, she goes on abandoning herself in exactly the same way as he set when he started. Then suddenly it’s she who’s imploring, she doesn’t say what for, and he, he shouts to her to be quiet, that he doesn’t want to have anything more to do with her, doesn’t want to have his pleasure of her any more. And now once more they are caught together, locked together in terror, and now the terror abates again, and now they succumb to it again, amid tears, despair, and happiness.
This passage reveals some of the details of the sexual awakening that the narrator experiences with her Chinese lover. He's twelve years older than her, and there's a father-child dynamic, she feels, to their intimate relationship. She's thrilled and somewhat confused by it, as she hasn't experienced anything like it.
And the dynamic between the two lovers, as the narrator describes it here, helps us, as readers, to understand why this relationship was considered so inappropriate to the public (including...
(The entire section is 900 words.)