The narrator and her friend seem to be at a negative turning point in their relationship, but that’s not the focal point of interest here: it’s the much-travelled English Captain and his wife (later known as Emily L.) who are the principal subjects here, he with his strong Pilsner beers, and his alcoholic wife with her double bourbons. An early few sentences about them sets the tone:
‘Perched on their stools almost motionless, heads leaning forwards, dangling, they were […] a little ridiculous. You could have called them plants, something like that, of no definite state, a sort of vegetable, human plants, no sooner born than already dying, no sooner living than already dead.’ (My translation.)
Emily L.’s history comes in instalments, but to sum up: she comes from a wealthy family, and after the death of her parents she inherited a boat and property. She has been many places in the boat with her husband the Captain (a nickname the patronne gives him), but their relationship seems to have run aground, they seem to be in terminal Despair Street.
Probably once beautiful, Emily L. wrote nineteen poems in her youth which were (unknown to her) published by her father, and (also unknown to her) they’ve been translated into a few European languages, she quite a celebrity if only she knew it, but the Captain has always seen her poems as a rival and steers the pair into safe Malaysian waters where Emily L. remains anonymous. Emily L. has already dismissed these poems as juvenilia, but the turning point in her poetry came when she was writing a poem following the still-birth of her child, an unfinished poem that the Captain burned in jealous hatred, and which Emily L. searched all over for. She never wrote anything after that.
She only learns of the existence of the booklet from the warden of their house, who looks after it when they are (almost always) away on mindless cruises. He loves Emily L., she loves him, but their relationship will never see day. Emily L. was Marguerite Duras’s favourite character, and there’s more than a little Duras in her.