29 April 2018

Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras (1998)


It's taken me several days to read this book, and not just because it's almost one thousand pages long. For anyone with more than a passing interest in Marguerite Duras's life and work, it needs to be read carefully: this must be the definive biographical work on her. While not exactly a friend of hers, Laure Adler had many contacts with her, as well as being able to interview such important people in Duras's life as Yann Andréa, Monique Anthelme, Robert Gallimard, Jérôme Lindon, Dionys Mascolo, François Mitterrand, and many more.

Although not a critical biography, this tome gives summaries of all of Duras's books and films and gives some details of how they came from her life: Duras was no enthusiast for biographies, and when Adler asked if she minded her writing such a book, gestured to those she'd written, as if she'd already provided enough biographical details.

To Duras, writing is an elucidation of herself, a search for the truth in its different aspects. For example, she made three versions of the story of her Chinese lover in Indochina, and although both Un barrage contre le Pacifique (1950) makes her mother appear as something like Duras's pimp, she and her opium-smoking brother both come out in a more positive light in her Goncourt-winning L'Amant (1984).

Although opium wasn't Duras's drug of course, she was a chronic alcoholic and underwent a few detoxes, the 1982 one (when she was sixty-eight) being astonishing: after drinking up to a phenomenal six to eight litres of cheap wine a day, she was rushed to the Hôpital américain de Paris in Neuilly and very nearly didn't survive. Considering that Duras went on after this episode to produce some of her most ineresting works is also phenomenal. As Adler notes elsewhere, and I translate: 'On her body she knitted a second skin of words which prevented her from dying.' What a beautiful image.

I could go on from many more words about this superb book, and haven't even mentioned her two husbands Robert Anthelme and Dionys Mascolo or her fascinating sixteen-year life with the gay and very much younger Yann Andréa, but I intend to read many more works by Marguerite Duras, as I've obviously been neglecting an important author.

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