looks simple on the surface. Marguerite Duras, about 70 when she wrote it, tells you about her first affair, with a rich Chinese man. She was a fifteen year old girl in colonial-era Vietnam, he was a dozen years older. Her family was desperately poor. Her mentally ill mother tacitly condoned the relationship; Marguerite's lover was generous, and they needed the money. Then she screamed at her daughter and beat her. The language is plain, unadorned and impersonal, stripped to its bare essentials. Sometimes I almost felt I was reading a math text. The author is not trying to tell you a love story or complain about how fate, her lover or her family mistreated her. She just wants to write down what happened and make peace with it. The result is a beautiful and deeply affecting book.
I wish I could write something like this. I thought back to things that had happened to me when I was a teenager and I tried to write about them the way Duras did, and I couldn't do it. I can't detach enough. I can't be sufficiently objective. I can't stop myself from judging or interpreting.
Here's a fragment, one piece I can see clearly. I hadn't seen my lover for some weeks; she had been sent overseas by her parents. Maybe it was because they disapproved of our relationship. I went to visit her. She came to meet me at the station. We went to a cheap hotel. We took our clothes off and got into bed. I held her, and she told me she had been unfaithful. There was a boy who was so stricken with her; she'd been unable to refuse him. I said it didn't matter. Then she said that there was a second man, older, a martial arts instructor. She was sleeping with him regularly. She said it was different from other relationships she'd had; the sex was different. I asked how. Sometimes, she said, he just entered her, no foreplay, nothing, and that was somehow special. I said it was good to hold her. I could feel her body telling me that she still loved me. She said that she wasn't telling me anything. We pulled apart and got dressed, and we never slept together again.
Some day, I might be able to tell the whole story and explain how it wasn't her fault, or mine. It just came out that way.