Friday, June 05, 2015

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras, Summer Rain
translated by Barbara Bray
Scribner, 1992

I’ve read half a dozen of Duras’ short novels, but when I found a tattered, moth-eaten copy of Summer Rain languishing on the shelf at the library, I’d never heard of it.  To my surprise, I enjoyed it as much or more than any of her more famous works.  As soon as I finished, I turned to the first page and reread.  For fans of Duras, this is definitely a book worth searching out.  It needs to be returned to print.

Reading reviews from its English publication 20 years ago, the book was criticized for “paper-thin characters and surreal dialogue”.  The critics, it seems, the critics wanted another book like The Lover, a book that is tremendously elegant but also instantly comprehensible, like an art movie guaranteed not to confuse your date.  Summer Rain is far more strange and, to me, more interesting.  It’s the love story of a boy “between 12 and 20” and his sister, amid a pack of feral children, in a colorless suburb.  Nobody finds a place in the world; nobody minds.  I imagine fans of Clarice Lispector or Marie Redonnet devouring it, as well as neo-surrealists, collagists and poets.    

And -- I loved the “surreal” dialogue of which the critic complains!  Sure, sometimes it seemed like profundity and other times like pseudo-profundity but -- when I reread the book my opinion of what was deep and what was shallow had changed.  An excellent discovery, I thought, and evidence of success.  The dialogue is also often hilarious, if you revel in highly peculiar turns of mind.

Maybe twenty years ago people read Summer Rain and were dumbfounded but -- I reckon many readers have caught up with Duras since then.  The beguiling strangeness of this book will win it at least as many friends as detractors.

No comments: