Duras (The Lover; The War, etc.) here offers a wise, graceful book, at once modern in its self-consciousness and classic in its clarity. In the French port town of Quillebeuf, a French couple (the narrator, who is a writer, and her lover) notice a British yachtsman and his wife, both hard drinkers with "deliberate immobility." The narrator, who decides to write "our story," begins to invent the British couple from bits of overheard conversation and observation at the same time that she discourses to her lover on the act of writing ("Some stories are elusive. They're made up of a series of situations without any link between them"). At first, she merely observes the British couple strike up an acquaintance with the woman who is manager of the bar and listens to the yachtman's oblique description of their travels, all the while sharing analysis and speculation with her lover. Then, however, the writer invents a narrative: the wife married beneath her, lost a girl in childbirth, wrote a sequence of beautiful poems her husband couldn't understand, and settled finally for travel—no happiness, no writing. As for the yachtsman, "it was natural that he should try to find a meaning for his own life in terms of her." Without the woman's knowledge, her father publishes the poems, which become famous. She longs for her house on the Isle of Wight and remembers a caretaker who knew her poems and cherished her soul, but "all they have to do now is solve the problem of death." The translation is rendered in a spare, lean prose, sparse yet limpid, At times the pontifications about writing can become self-congratulatory and tiresome, but mostly this is a fascinating account of those lines of force that both attach us to and separate us from others.
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