Autobiographical pieces published from 1957 to 1988 from the late French filmmaker and experimental writer (The Lover, etc.).
This wide-ranging collection opens with a provocative, messy essay. It begins in classic Duras style with existential statements about the artist’s life—“You compete with God,” and “The unknown in my life is my written life. I will die without knowing this unknown.” But without segue Duras is suddenly commenting on the enduring horror of the Holocaust, dropping statements like, “Those who say that the camps are a recognized, assimilated phenomenon are the new anti-Semites.” The other pieces are generally more focused but with some distracting disregard for balanced form. Duras writes brilliantly about true crime, Yves Saint Laurent, the art of literary translation, her dislike of Sartre and Marxism-Leninism, and the magic of having her portrait painted. And she can stop hearts recalling scenes from her difficult childhood or her grief for her son who died an hour after birth. The genre-bending centerpiece, “Summer 80,” echoes her memoir, Yann Andréa Steiner, as Duras muses on the sea while threading in two fables about a boy and a shark, and a boy and his female camp counselor on the beach. Adding in political commentary about Iran, the Moscow Olympic Games, the Polish workers’ strike in Gdańsk, in Duras' hands the disparate mix of fact and fiction yields an overall feeling of intense, poetic vulnerability and fervent political ideals. The book’s translators comment in an afterword on the difficulties of bringing these Duras texts into English “with all her strangeness and mystery intact.” While there is often a thrilling sense of pushing into the hidden aspects of reality, the many hyperbolic and contradictory “absurdities,” as Duras calls them, make for a bumpy ride.
A luminous, erudite exploration of self and art marred by too many outlandish turns.