Somehow, this incredible little novella flew completely under my radar until last year. Luckily, the folks over at Lit Hub are absolutely obsessed, and I was unable to remain in the dark for much longer.
When it’s in a book I don’t think it’ll hurt any more …exist any more. One of the things writing does is wipe things out. Replace them.
While not entirely an “autobiography”, Duras tells the tale of a very young girl who grew up in an unstable household in French-colonized Vietnam, who out of both financial need and curious lust engages in a sexual relationship with a much older Chinese businessman. Duras frequently wrote about her own life in both fiction and film- while we cannot stay that this is her STORY, it is certainly HER story, if that makes the slightest bit of sense.
Lolita this is NOT- thank the gods. A woman’s voice telling a girl’s story goes a long way. While The Lover still mired in the swamps of white colonization, racism, classism, and sexual predators, it is not a tale that left me enraged. The prose is deliberately obscure at times, but the writing feels honest and earnest.
Duras illustrates the life of our narrator; not just the hazy and humiliating days of her youth, but the progression of time written on both her life and her face. Her adult narrator is whip-smart and achingly knowledgeable of the world at large- and the men within it.
You didn’t have to attract desire. Either it was in the woman who aroused it or it didn’t exist. Either it was there at first glance or else it had never been. It was instant knowledge of sexual relationship or it was nothing. That too I knew before I experienced it.
Her preteen voice is stuffed with needs, hopes, urges, and fantastical footwear. She wears gold lamé heels with her simple shift dress. She is exploding with life.
I am worn out with desire for Hélène Lagonelle.
I am worn out with desire.
I see myself re-visiting this soon; it was an engaging and rewarding quick read- but I would love to enjoy it somewhere more sumptuous than the waiting room of a car dealership while I await my inspection sticker.
My edition comes with an introduction from Maxine Hong Kingston- which, to no surprise, is wonderful. If this is your first read through, be sure to save it as an “afterward” lest you spoil any discoveries along the way.