Short summary - The Lover - Marguerite Duras

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Lover
Marguerite Duras

A female narrator recounts her youth in Saigon. The main events relate to the period from 1932 to 1934.
A French girl of fifteen and a half years old lives in a state boarding house in Saigon, and studies at a French lyceum. Her mother wants her daughter to get a secondary education and become a mathematics teacher at the Lyceum. The girl has two brothers, one is two years older than her - this is the “younger” brother, and the other, “older”, is three. Without knowing why, she is madly in love with her younger brother. He considers the eldest a disaster for the whole family, although his mother does not like him and loves him, perhaps even more than the other two children. He steals money from relatives, from servants, is arrogant, cruel. There is something sadistic about him: he rejoices when his mother hits his little sister, beats his younger brother with wild fury for any reason. The girl's father serves in Indochina, but early falls ill and dies. The mother carries on herself all the hardships of life and the upbringing of three children.
After the lyceum, the girl is taken by ferry to Saigon, where her boarding house is located. It's a whole journey for her, especially when she is traveling by bus. She is returning from Schadek after a vacation, where her mother is the director of a girls' school. Mother sees her off, entrusting the care of the bus driver. When the bus enters the ferry crossing one of the branches of the Mekong and following from Shadek to Vinhlong, she gets off the bus, leans against the parapet. She wears a shabby silk dress belted with a leather belt, gold brocade shoes with high heels, and a soft men's felt hat with a flat brim and a wide black ribbon. It is the hat that gives the whole image of the girl a clear ambiguity. She has long, coppery, heavy curly hair, fifteen and a half years old, but she is already dyeing. Foundation, powder, dark cherry lipstick.
There is a big black limousine on the ferry next to the bus. In the limousine, there is a chauffeur in white livery and an elegant man, Chinese, but dressed in a European style - in a light, light suit, which are worn by bankers in Saigon. He keeps looking at the girl, as many people do. The Chinese man approaches her, speaks, offers to take her to the boarding house in his limousine. The girl agrees. From now on, she will never ride the local bus again. She is no longer a child and understands something. She understands that she is ugly, although if she wants, she may seem so, she feels that it is not beauty and not outfits that make a woman desirable. A woman is either sexually attractive or not. This is immediately apparent.
In the car, they talk about the mother of a girl with whom her companion is familiar. The girl loves her mother very much, but she does not understand much about her. It is incomprehensible her adherence to rags, old dresses, shoes, her bouts of fatigue and despair. The mother is constantly trying to get out of poverty. Therefore, she probably allows the girl to walk in the dress of a little prostitute. The girl already understands everything perfectly, knows how to use the attention given to her. She knows it will help to raise money. When the girl wants money, the mother will not bother her.
Already in adulthood, the narrator talks about her childhood, about how all the children loved their mother, but also how they hated her. The story of their family is a story of love and hate, and she cannot understand the truth in it, even from the height of her age.
Even before the man speaks to the girl, she sees that he is scared, and from the first minute realizes that he is completely in her power. She also understands that today is the time to do what she must do. And neither her mother nor her brothers should know about it. The slammed car door cut her off from her family once and for all.
One day, shortly after their first meeting, he calls for her at the boarding house, and they go to Sholon, the Chinese capital of Indochina. They enter his bachelor apartment, and the girl feels that she is exactly where she should be. He confesses to her that he loves her like mad. She replies that it would be better if he did not love her, and asks to behave with her in the same way as he behaves with other women. She sees the pain her words inflict on him.
He has deliciously delicate skin. And the body is thin, devoid of muscles, so fragile, as if suffering. He moans, sobs. Choking on his unbearable love. And gives her a boundless, incomparable sea of pleasure.
He asks why she came. She says: it was necessary. They are talking for the first time. She tells him about her family, that they have no money. She wants him along with his money. He wants to take her away, go somewhere together. She still cannot leave her mother, otherwise she will die of grief. He promises to give her money. Evening falls. He says that the girl will remember this day for the rest of her life, the memory will not fade away, and when she completely forgets him, she will even forget his face, even his name.
They go out on the street. The girl feels that she has grown old. They go to one of the big Chinese restaurants, but no matter what they talk about, they never talk about themselves. This continues for the entire year and a half of their daily meetings. His father, the richest Chinese man in Cholon, would never agree to his son marrying this little white prostitute from Jadek. He would never dare to go against his father's wishes.
The girl introduces her lover to her family. Meetings always begin with sumptuous dinners, during which the brothers are terribly overeating, and the owner himself is ignored, without uttering a single word in his address.
He takes her to the boarding house at night in a black limousine. Sometimes she doesn't come to sleep at all. This is reported to the mother. The mother comes to the headmistress of the boarding house and asks to give the girl freedom in the evenings. Soon, a very expensive diamond ring appears on the girl's ring finger, and the warders, although they mature that the girl is not engaged at all, completely stop commenting on her.
One day, the lover leaves for his sick father. He recovers and thus deprives him of his last hope of ever marrying a white girl. The father prefers to see his son dead. The best way out is her departure, separation from her, in the depths of his soul he understands that she will never be faithful to anyone. This is evidenced by her face. Sooner or later, they will still have to part.
Soon, the girl and her family are sailing on a steamer to France. She stands and looks at him and his car on the beach. She is in pain, wants to cry, but she cannot show her family that she loves a Chinese man.
Advertising:
Arriving in France, the mother buys a house and a plot of forest. The older brother loses it all overnight. During the war, he steals from his sister, as he always robbed his relatives, takes her last meal and all the money. He dies on a gloomy, cloudy day. The younger brother died even earlier, in 1942, from bronchopneumonia in Saigon, during the Japanese occupation.
The girl does not know when her lover, obeying the will of her father, married a Chinese girl. Years passed, the war ended, the girl gave birth to children, got divorced, wrote books, and many years later he came with his wife to Paris and called her. His voice trembles. He knows that she writes books, her mother told him about this, with whom he met in Saigon. And then he says the main thing: he still loves her, as before, and will love only her alone until his death.