Duras, Marguerite (Vol. 3)
Duras, Marguerite 1914–
Mme. Duras is a French novelist, playwright, and screenwriter whose novels derive their narrative technique from motion pictures. Hiroshima mon amour, a screenplay, can be regarded as a key to her fictional method. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)
Although the characters in Marguerite Duras' novels are less preoccupied with the meaning of being than Virginia Woolf's, they seek with equal zeal to establish their identity and through this identity to relate themselves to others, to move toward "that distant bank upon which they, the others, dwell." In her earlier works, this search concerns itself with identity as it is defined by role, family, and society. In these works, the pristine consciousness of the heroine receives life, records its intricacies, and attempts to visualize the pattern formed and to place itself within it. In the slightly later Le Square (1955), however, the heroine is no longer engaged in examining life in order to identify herself; instead, she seeks identity through identification. The maid in that novel passionately tries to identify herself with a role or an essence which precedes her own existence, and her search clearly illustrates the irrelevance of the existential solution to a woman's fate. What it means to be a woman is already defined in her mind: it is "to be chosen." The salesman's lone odyssey, his moments of solitary élan, his pleasures in sudden, startling things—cherries in the spring—are terrifying to her. She does not wish to create life. Her essence exists, and she will exist when she takes on that essence, when she crosses to that bank. In her conversations with the salesman, she is, of course, engaging in the very event for which she searches….
Marguerite Duras, does not present characters who express ideas and moods, but characters who are themselves living expressionistic lives, acting out their moods and fantasies by projecting into and identifying with the lives of others. That in doing so her characters seem at times wholly mad does not require Duras' requitement to her reader.
Doris Enright-Clark Shoukri, "The Nature of Being in Woolf and Duras," in Contemporary Literature (© 1971 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin), Vol. 12, No. 3, Summer, 1971, pp. 317-28.
Marguerite Duras's readers are familiar with her fascinating ability to mix the morbid and the erotic; they will not be surprised to learn, therefore, that her latest novel, although entitled "Love," is also about death. The main character, a man identified only as "the traveller," has come to the coastal town of S. Thala to kill himself. However, he meets a nameless woman there and announces his love for her. She describes herself as "the death of S. Thala" and another nameless man refers to her as "the object of absolute desire." Their "love affair," if it may be so described, takes place against the background of a nearly deserted town mysteriously ravaged by fires and storms. The novel ends with all three characters awaiting dawn on a darkened beach and the reader still awaiting an explanation, either literal or symbolic, of their relationship….
Duras used mystery and indirection to considerable effect in earlier works such as Moderato cantabile, but here it is less satisfactory. The characters of this novel are less human and complex, more abstract and self-consciously metaphysical than in the earlier work. The result is not genuine engagement and ultimate revelation but gratuitous mystification.
Dean McWilliams, in Books Abroad, Autumn, 1972, p. 617.