Sunday 27 April 2014

The Lover (by Marguerite Duras) - A review

The Lover (L'Amant)

Location: Vietnam (Indochina)
Author: Marguerite Duras
Year: 1984
Genre: Romance
Theme: Set in Vietnam under French rule, the tale of a clandestine romance between a teenage girl from a poor French family and an older, wealthy Chinese man.

A brief and powerful semi-autobiographical work, this romance novel set in Saigon centres on a passionate affair between a young French girl from an impoverished and troubled background and an older Chinese man of far greater means. There is not much to be said about the plot itself beyond that, with this book serving as an intriguing look at both the romance and a complex family situation, with the protagonist feeling intense love, hate and pity for her harsh, widowed mother and an elder brother who inspires fear on many occasions, as well as great love for her younger brother.

This novella is fairly simple in its premise, but the incredibly personal approach (Duras herself experienced a similar childhood in Saigon) and powerful, intense style make for a strong tale. The characters are intriguing and well-defined, and the events feel natural. The setting is both important and not essential, as this is a tale that could happen anywhere but is still strongly shaped by the environment it is placed in. Duras' style is fairly stark, not altogether common in French literature, but is still an engaging read.

I will admit this book did not interest me as much as some others, but it is objectively an incredibly powerful work, one that is a must read for those looking at the nouveau roman, the modern French novel. It's a novella, yes, but it's packed full of strong characterisation and events that make for an engaging read.

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