From August to December mast year, I plodded through this huge biography but I never regretted it. It is a fascinating portrait of a woman whose life has always navigated between facts and fiction. I love the book and admire Adler for a relentless search for clues and facts in Duras’ life, but wow, I’m a bit at a loss of words when it comes to reviewing it. Litlove recently read the book, and she does a much better work speaking of it than I can ever hope to.
Like many French people of my age, I first read Duras after the movie The Lover became a huge hit in 1992. Her literary work was supposed to be hard and boring to read. We had pages of “Hiroshima mon amour” to study in Lit class to explore the notion of Nouveau Roman, but the teacher was powerless at sparking any interest from us. And she was often a subject of jokes because she was the rambling and ranting old lady who spoke of herself using her name instead of “I”. I was fascinated by the sensual exotic images of the movie. I then turned to the novel, being unaware that it was a free interpretation of her own childhood. I remember being confused that one novel was “The Lover” and another “The North China Lover”, but couldn’t understand that Duras weaved the same themes over and over again. Hey, I was young and clueless alright.
But I have excuses. Duras was a living mystery. She built her image carefully, with a mix of ambitious pragmatism and crazy dedication to art. She probably wanted to be a piece of fiction as much as she wanted to become rich and famous by writing fiction. She wanted to make money, but she wanted to experiment and push the limits of art both in movies and on paper. But what a hell it must have been to live with her! Sometimes she seemed downward mean, monstrously egocentric and insensitive, and she was an alcoholic. Adler manages to show us Duras’ both sides without sparing the reader, yet we can’t help but being bewitched by her.
I was very interested in learning about her childhood in then-French Indochina (now Vietnam), that probably shaped her whole life, and about the war period that I’d read about in La Douleur. It was like reading a whole other side of the short stories (that are supposed to be pages of a diary written by Duras during the war). Adler makes it clear that Duras’ position was ambiguous during the war, working for a pro-German organization in charge of distributing (scarce) paper resources among publishing houses. She also joined the Resistance, but after her husband was arrested and sent to concentration camps she had an affair with a traitor, whom she had arrested at the end of the war. Some episodes of her life look like a novel of hers, whereas some facts of her life surprisingly contradicts myths she had built about herself.
The least I could do now is to read another Duras in 2011! Any title that I should try in priority?