Moderato cantabile isn't about the changing times, although music serves as a introduction and an occasional backcloth to the novel. Anne Desbaresdes is the wife of a wealthy factory owner in a small coastal town who every Friday leaves her home on the other side of town to take her son for piano lessons with Mademoiselle Giraud. Giraud is an old-style quietly tyrannical type of teacher who gets angry with her pupil for refusing to practice his scales, and there we have the central issue: much as The Sound of Music wants everyone to behave like sheep, love its sickly sentimentality and fall in line with everything like a musical scale, there will nevertheless always be rebels, those who transgress, and Anne Desbaresdes's son is transgressive. But then his mother is much more transgressive.
From the window of the music study comes the cry of a woman being murdered outside a working-class café (call this a kind of MacGuffin if you wish), and it is in this café that Anne goes to have a number of wines and has her first meeting with the worker Chauvin (interesting name), who of course knows who she is, as does everyone in the town. And this meeting is the first of several meetings that Anne shall have with him in the café, where Chauvin will reconstruct the circumstances leading to the murder – a murder that the unknown victim has willed, or at least according to Chauvin's unreliable narration.
Yes, Anne is far more transgressive than her son: she not only fraternises with one of her husband's workers, but goes through the motions of having an affair with the man. But then, that's not stated, and all that happens physically is a touch of hands, in the end a brief, laconic kiss, a kiss of love but almost a kiss of death: it is as if the couple – who by now are shunned by the other (non-transgressive, almost clockwork) workers in the café, the whole town being aware of the 'affair' – are playing out the murder that has so much obsessed them.
But then everything is understated: the critic Dominique Aury reckons that the book says what it doesn't say. And the rest of the critical world, in 1958, is hit almost senseless by what amounts to a book which breaks away – as Duras has finally done – from the conventional narrative norm: in itself, this is transgressive. Is it making an overstatement to suggest – and this book thrives on suggestion rather than statement – that this brief novel was a kind of literary Hiroshima?
My Marguerite Duras posts:
Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir
Marguerite Duras: Agatha
Marguerite Duras: Emily L.
Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs
Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover
Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein
Marguerite Duras: L'Amante anglaise
Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Marguerite Duras: Un barrage contre le Pacifique
Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas
Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar
Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir
Yann Andréa: Cet amour-là
Marguerite Duras and Xavière Gauthier: Les Parleuses
Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay
Marguerite Duras: Détruire, dit-elle | Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras: L'Amour
Marguerite Duras: Dix heures et demie du soir en été
Marguerite Duras: Le Square | The Square
Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents
Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga
Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être
Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres
Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler
Marguerite Duras: Le Vice-Consul | The Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille
Marguerite Duras: La Pluie d'été