Duras’ novel, published in French in 1971, debuts in its English translation (Emily L., 1987, etc.).
The town of S. Thala is a timeless place where sand, light, hot blazes, sirens and a dead dog all seem to hold some strange significance. But what? Duras, whose works were popular in France during the last century, was known for experimenting with different genres—she was particularly associated with the nouveau roman movement in France—and presenting her text in unique forms. A prolific writer, she produced novels, articles, plays and movies before her death in 1996. This particular narrative, written in cinematic form, is illustrative of her passion for the unusual. A sequel to The Ravishing of Lol Stein (first published in 1964), this book revisits the main characters as they fade in and out, and the reader is left to reread passages to discover the identity of the speaker and attempt to discern meaning. As a traveler arrives in S. Thala, he suddenly finds himself confronting his past in surrealistic snatches of dialogue that are simultaneously disturbing, exquisite, calming and perplexing. The traveler evidently was once involved with the woman with whom he interacts—at one point she’s pregnant, and at another, they discuss two children—and she’s sometimes accompanied (and sometimes not) by a man who watches over her. Duras certainly tears down traditional ideas about how to structure novels, but her avant-garde approach may be confusing for some.
The novel doesn’t work well as a stand-alone. And reading the prequel is no guarantee that the reader will get it.