This copy of Marguerite Duras's La Pluie d'été was very kindly given to me by the artist Danielle Jacqui when we visited her amazing house – known as La Maison de celle qui peint ('The House of the woman who paints') – in Roquevaire, Provence last month. Her inscription reads: Pour Penny et Tony j'espère que cela vous plaira – danielle (with a J (for Jacqui, of course) circled): 'I hope that you'll like it'. I certainly did.
In the most basic understanding of the book – which developed from the children's story by Duras, Ah ! Ernesto (1971), then to her film Les Enfants (1985) – finally to be novelised as La Pluie d'été, it concerns a family of marginals, the mother and father coming from Poland (or Russia) and Italy respectively. They live on family allowances in Vitry and have seven children who don't go to school, although the oldest boy, Ernesto, goes for ten days before leaving because he doesn't want to learn things that he doesn't know; his sister Jeanne also makes the decision to leave.
Most of the story concerns Ernesto and his attitude to education, the way he holds the family together, his incestuous relationship with Jeanne, above all the fact that he is a super-gifted child: he is twelve years old, although has the rather uncanny appearance of an adult. He teaches himself to read with a book whose name isn't actually mentioned, but which is The Book of Ecclesiastes. He later goes on to university, travels widely, and is well known.
Towards the beginning of the book Ernesto says, when he's in the process of reading, and I translate: 'In this way he learned that reading is a continuous unravelling in his own body of a story invented by himself.' It struck me how wonderful a definition this is of the nature of reading itself. La Pluie d'été is a constant revelation of meanings, some of which are merely suggested, others incessantly renewing their meanings. I said a similar thing, in French, in an email to Danielle Jacqui, who registered her agreement by posting my email on her Facebook page and replying!
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