Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A writer reading a writer

One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place, a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said: "I've known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you're more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged."

These are the opening words to the 1984 novella The Lover (L'Amant in the original French) by the French author Marguerite Duras, one of the best works of short (or in this case, a bit longer) fiction that I, as a writer, have ever read and certainly equal in to others I hold in high esteem, such as Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger, Carlos Fuentes' Aura and Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, to name just three.

I have recently been re-reading Duras' four "novels" collection (and, indeed, I have been re-reading a bit in general as I have been too poor to buy new books), and I find that the stories contained therein - The Square, Moderato Cantabile, 10:30 on a Summer Night and The Afternoon of Mr. Andesmas - resonate perhaps even more with me as I enter my mid-thirties than they did when I first perused them in my early twenties. The situations that Duras presents - of characters trying to extract themselves from or surrendering to situations that often seem strangling and constricting, which nevertheless at times threaten to boil over with emotion, is revealing in its depth of understanding human motivation in a current literary landscape that seems less and less interested in exploring such terrain and more and more interested with the newest flavor of whatever the bright, young, wealthy, shallow urbanites (called it the Sex and the City syndrome) are doing this year, and how this can best be exploited for marketable purposes. I have also been reminded again of what a great gift for dialogue Duras as a writer had, and how she builds the tensions in her stories, particular in The Square and 10:30 on a Summer Night, with minimal attention to descriptive prose stylings and a rather heavy reliance on conversational flows that grow more pregnant with meaning as the reader turns every page. This is perhaps not surprising as Duras was the screenwriter for Alain Resnais' acclaimed 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour.

Having penned some 70 (!) novels over a 50 year period, Duras, born in the Gia Dinh suburbs of Saigon, in 1914, the daughter of a mathematics teacher (who died quite young) and his wife, remains, a decade after her passing, a great teacher for those writers who want to dive deeply into human experience and bring back something really raw and vital to the page. Hmmm, maybe there's a story in there somewhere...

1 comment:

Cari said...

"a current literary landscape that seems less and less interested in exploring such terrain"

EXACTLY. On my worst days of angsty writerly despair (which usually coincides with my having spent hours editing someone else's it ChickLit or yet another vampire romance. Almost never good literary fiction), this is what seems to be the worst of it. Publishers today are unwilling to take a chance on challenging, perhaps uncomfortable work. Are they underestimating the reading public? I hope so.

I haven't read Duras. I'll give her a try.