The Lover (Duras novel)
First edition cover of L'amant
|Publisher||Editions de Minuit|
Published in English
|LC Class||PQ2607.U8245 A626 1984|
The Lover (French: L'Amant), also sometimes translated as The North China Lover, is an autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, published in 1984 by Les Éditions de Minuit. It has been translated to 43 languages and was awarded the 1984 Prix Goncourt. It was adapted to film in 1992 as The Lover.
Set against the backdrop of French colonial Vietnam, The Lover reveals the intimacies and intricacies of a clandestine romance between a pubescent girl from a financially strapped French family and an older, wealthy Chinese man.
In 1929, a 15-year-old nameless girl is traveling by ferry across the Mekong Delta, returning from a holiday at her family home in the town of Sa Đéc, to her boarding school in Saigon. She attracts the attention of a 27-year-old son of a Chinese business magnate, a young man of wealth and heir to a fortune. He strikes up a conversation with the girl; she accepts a ride back to town in his chauffeured limousine.
Compelled by the circumstances of her upbringing, this girl, the daughter of a bankrupt, manic depressive widow, is newly awakened to the impending and all-too-real task of making her way alone in the world. Thus, she becomes his lover, until he bows to the disapproval of his father and breaks off the affair.
For her lover, there is no question of the depth and sincerity of his love, but it isn't until much later that the girl acknowledges to herself her true feelings.
There are two published versions of The Lover: one written in the form of an autobiography, without any superimposed temporal structures, as the young girl narrates in first-person; the other, called The North China Lover and released in conjunction with the film version of the work, is in film script form, in the third person, with written dialogue and without internal monologue. This second version also contains more humor than the original.
Duras published The Lover when she was 70, fifty-five years after she met Léo, the Chinaman of her story (she never revealed his surname). The novel was endlessly rewritten as she grew older. The marvelous passionate love story the novel tells, a story many take as autobiographical, is, in essence, fiction. In the first of her wartime notebooks, she does not retell that portion of her life in great detail but she does provide some information about her relationship with Léo that creates a rather different picture from that presented in the novel (or the film).
A few isolated quotes help establish some differences between the fiction and the reality. “I only slept with him once and that was after two years of pleading.” … ”How did I manage to overcome the kind of physical loathing I felt for Léo?” … “It was on that evening that Leo kissed me on the mouth [for the first time]. I felt a cool and moist contact with my lips. The revulsion I felt truly cannot be described. … I did calm down, however, and slid over to the end of the seat as far from Léo as possible. And there I spat into my handkerchief. I kept spitting. … Truly I felt a kind of aftermath of rape. … Ugliness had entered my mouth, I had communed with horror. I was violated to my very soul.”
Her actual experiences have no bearing on the value or quality of the novel, which stands as a minor masterpiece.
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