Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras

“A selection of her books has recently been published in an Everyman’s Library edition, with an introduction by the novelist Rachel Kushner. On the face of it, it’s an idiosyncratic grouping, to put it kindly: ‘The Lover’ (1985); ‘Practicalities’ (1990), her riffs on alcohol, men and other forces of mayhem in her life; and her posthumously published journals, ‘Wartime Notebooks’ (2008). Why not ‘The Ravishing of Lol Stein,’ the novel she was proudest of, I wondered, or ‘Blue Eyes, Black Hair,’ to give a sense of her formal experimentation and sheer weirdness (it’s an entire novel more or less about a naked woman lying on a bed with a piece of black silk over her face — and it kind of works)?

But the wisdom of these choices becomes apparent. We get as complete a portrait as we can hope for: the writer the world knows (‘The Lover’ was a global best seller); the one performing her public role (she’s very much the literary grande dame in the chatty essays in ‘Practicalities’); and the one at work, spurring herself on in notebooks that an editor called Duras’s ‘workshop, gymnasium, kitchen, treasure chest.'”

— Parul Sehgal, The New York Times


Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras

I recently rediscovered a copy of Marguerite Duras‘ fiction that had been packed away in a spare room for several years. It is a 1977 edition of “three novels” from publisher John Calder, short pieces offering English-speaking readers an introduction to the French post-war writer. The first novel within, entitled The Square (Le Square, 1955), presents a conversation between a servant girl and a commercial traveller as they sit in a city square. Duras renders the two strangers’ conversation with beautiful economy of expression; her prose style simply conveys their words, with occasional observations of their surroundings. As their exchange develops, the two share reflections on living a meaningful life.

What follows are a few choice quotations from Duras’ novel, translated into English by Sonia Pitt-Rivers and Irina Morduch. (more…)

Clarice Lispector in 1961.

Went cycling to Cardiff Bay barrage with Jennifer this morning. We sat for some time in the sunshine, before deciding to return to the cool shade of the apartment. I’m still reading Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina, which is just superb. I have also come across a number of interesting articles, reviews, and commentaries from around the web:

12 visual artists interpret Radiohead‘s seminal 1997 album, OK Computer • (Re)reading Don DeLillo‘s White NoiseFalling Man, and Cosmopolis in dark times • Sam Jordison on the publication of A Confederacy of Dunces David Hering on Alan Clarke‘s ‘hypnotic junkie odyssey’, Christine • On the diaries of T.S. Eliot‘s first wife • And 17 brilliant short novels you can read in one sitting, including works by Marguerite DurasThomas BernhardRoberto BolañoCormac McCarthyClarice Lispector, and more.

The writer and journalist talks about This Is the Place to Be, and the influences that motivate her
This month brings the release of Lara Pawson’s new memoir, This Is the Place to Be, published by CB editions. Written in a fragmentary form, the book deals with Pawson’s experiences as a witness of war in Angola and Ivory Coast. The writer Joanna Walsh praises it for the way it ‘unpicks the spirals of memory, politics, violence, to trace the boundaries and crossing points of gender and race identity.’ I caught up with Pawson to ask her about This Is the Place to Be, and to find out more about her motivations and influences.


“The Novel That Took Marguerote Duras to the Edge of Fiction and Sanity”

To the extent that she is familiar to Americans, Marguerite Duras is known for Hiroshima mon amour, the 1959 screenplay she wrote for Alain Resnais. Among its other accomplishments, that film has the distinction of being the anti-singularity of modern cinematic language, an originary limit point that acknowledges how the immense weight of an immediate and incomprehensibly violent past has broken the time of the present and preemptively attacked the future. One would have thought that Duras’ contribution, which did earn her an Oscar nomination, would have hardened her legacy in this country. But her tendency, in her near-perfect later films and fiction, to work at the edge of narrative, along with a basic American negligence — an irony given that American postmodern writers would co-opt her techniques to weakened effect — has obscured her importance. The situation is compounded in the literary present, which joins supposedly disparate political camps in their frenzy for positive identification. Duras instead wrote identification slantwise; she wasn’t offering an anti-self so much as a refusal to offer. She isn’t Yeats; she’s Duras. (more…)