Places: The Lover

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: L’Amant, 1984 (English translation, 1985)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: New Novel

Time of work: Late 1920’s through 1940’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Saigon

*Saigon. Lover, TheCity in Cochin China (now Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam), near which the author, Marguerite Duras, was born and raised. During the prewar era of French colonization, Saigon was dubbed Paris of the Far East; it was a city of lights and pleasures in which all things exotic and decadent lurked within opium dens, rented housing complexes, market squares at night, alleyways, hidden flats, or under scorching afternoons of tropical heat. The city is a center of colonial wealth built on the labor of disenfranchised Vietnamese and enjoyed by the country’s French occupiers and immigrant Chinese businessmen.

The unnamed narrator looks back on the time when she was a teenage daughter of a poor French family in Saigon, recalling her adolescence and the forbidden affair she enjoyed with her wealthy Chinese lover, when she succumbed to the seductive, shimmering limelight of the city, with its tropical heat. She and her lover are both strangers and yet natives to Saigon: strangers because she is French and he is Chinese, natives because they live, tread, and breathe each and every place of Saigon: its mercantile commotions and rickshaws, its Chinese and French eateries, its stagnant water, its bodies in the market squares and city sidewalks.

In Saigon the girl attends an all-girl boarding school, and her lover takes her to his bachelor flat in the Chinese part of the city. There he introduces her to material luxury and his wealth. His black limousine usually waits for her outside her boarding school to take her to his flat or wherever she desires to go. Eventually, however, their interracial affair becomes a scandal.

Bachelor flat

Bachelor flat. Home of the narrator’s lover, located in a housing complex in Cholon, the Chinese part of Saigon where the narrator loses her virginity. The flat is the physical representation of sordid and covetous lust and love between the doomed lovers.

Family home

Family home. Located in Sadec and inhabited by the schoolgirl, her mother, and two brothers. This house is the epitome of familial inequity, sibling rivalry, enmity, bitterness, domestic violence, sadness, occasional laughter, and always poverty. What the girl lacks in this house she seeks and gets from her Chinese lover.

BibliographyAnnan, Gabriele. “Saigon Mon Amour.” New York Review of Books, June 27, 1985, 11-12. Concisely restates many of the major critical arguments both for and against the novel.Booklist. LXXXI, June 1, 1985, p. 1370.Boston Review. X, July, 1985, p. 26.Callahan, Anne. “Vagabondage: Duras.” In Remains to Be Seen: Essays on Marguerite Duras, compiled by Sanford Scribner Ames. New York: Peter Lang, 1988. Readable scholarly essay that celebrates The Lover as a groundbreaking work of feminist erotica. Part of a section that includes three other essays on The Lover.Cusset, Catherine, et al. “Marguerite Duras.” Yale French Studies, Fall, 1988, 61-64. Beginning with a useful and brief biography of Duras, Cusset notes the reception of L’Amant as a determining factor in increasing Duras’ reading audience. Cusset identifies the autobiographical basis of surging waters as a central image in Duras’ works (the dam that was destroyed by the Pacific Ocean allowed the family’s land in Vietnam to be flooded and useless). Cusset briefly discusses silence and loss of identity in the works.Duras, Marguerite, and Xaviere Gauthier. Woman to Woman. Translated by Katharine A. Jensen. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. These interviews were begun as an assignment in Le Monde (a French magazine) in 1974. In five different interviews, Gauthier and Duras discuss writing and feminism, among many other related topics. Duras’ discussion of syntax will be especially interesting to readers of her novels. Especially useful is the afterword that discusses the cultural context within which Duras writes.Fineberg, Roberta. “Learning of Love.” Saturday Review, May-June, 1985, 12. This brief review of The Lover notes the autobiographical plot parallels, the hypnotic language, and the adult desire that takes over the narrator’s life as a teenager. Fineberg documents the near veneration of Duras by French coeds at a cocktail reception in Paris, noting a brief conversation she had with the author. A fine picture of Duras appears with the article.Glassman, Deborah N. Marguerite Duras: Fascinating Vision and Narrative Cure. London: Associated University Presses, 1991. Contains an interesting discussion of The Lover that relates the novel’s visual imagery to Duras’ film-making style. Quotes Duras extensively in French, with English translations.Harper’s Magazine. CCLXX, June, 1985, p. 28.Hill, Leslie. “Marguerite Duras: Sexual Difference and Tales of Apocalypse.” Modern Language Review 84 (July, 1989): 601-614. Hill explores Duras’ use of repetition as a structuring device both as a writer and as a filmmaker. Noting the similarity between music and Duras’ fiction, Hill asserts that Duras repeats with variations, much as Beethoven does. Hill’s treatment of Duras’ Moderato Cantabile (1958), with its dominant scene and repetitive reworking of that scene, suggests a valid approach to structure in The Lover. Hill’s discussion of apocalypse and sexuality also apply to The Lover.Library Journal. CX, June 1, 1985, p. 142.Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 14, 1985, p. 3.The New York Times Book Review. XC, June 23, 1985, p. 1.The New Yorker. LXI, July 22, 1985, p. 90.Newsweek. CVI, July 8, 1985, p. 67.Schuster, Marilyn R. Marguerite Duras Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993. Outstanding overview of Duras scholarship and Duras’ work. Explains why Duras is an important figure in French culture, and how her written works are related to one another.Publishers Weekly. CCXXVII, May 3, 1985, p. 64.Solomon, Barbara Probst. “Marguerite Duras: The Politics of Passion.” Partisan Review 54 (Summer, 1987): 415-422. In an essay originally presented at a spring colloquium held in 1986 by the New York University Department of French in conjunction with the French government and the Alliance Française, Solomon recounts her initial meeting with Duras in 1964 in New York, where she accompanied the author to art galleries, neighborhoods, and shops. Solomon’s analysis of The Lover focuses on its political symbolism and its theme of incest. Solomon interprets the Chinese lover’s return to the narrator at the end of the book in Paris as Indochina’s return to the French colonial fold. Solomon argues that the lover is in fact the younger brother.Solomon, Barbara Probst. “Indochina Mon Amour.” The New Republic, September 9, 1985, 26-32. Strong, opinionated political analysis of The Lover. Memorably describes Duras’ political views, their impact on her work, and her involvement in the French Resistance during World War II.The Wall Street Journal. CCVI, July 10, 1985, p. 26.World Press Review. XXXII, September, 1985, p. 56.
Categories: Places