Apart from having seen Hiroshima, mon amour once or twice back in the aughts (for which Duras wrote the screenplay), Ecrire (Gallimard, 1993) was my first encounter with the writing of Marguerite Duras. It’s an unusual book, not only in the way it begins without much in the way of a subject — the author/writer/narrator describing her solitude in an empty house in the Normandy countryside — but then in the way it consists of five very different and seemingly unrelated parts.
I found the first two sections by far the most interesting: “Ecrire” and “La mort du jeune aviateur anglais” (“To Write” and “The Death of the Young English Flyer”). But it was a passage of several pages in that first section, “Ecrire,” that was truly unforgettable. Duras’s narrator describes being in a house, waiting for a friend, and noticing the slow death of a fly over 20 or so minutes. The memory seems to come out of nowhere, as most all of the things she relates in those first two sections do; there is a strong sense of the haphazard and the arbitrary in the way she lets certain memories and thoughts speak, as if they were utterly foreign to her, as if they came from nowhere or from someone else. The tone is one of surprise, revelation, and discovery.
Anyways, the fly. The death of the fly. Duras imputes to the fly’s death a colossal significance. She seems sublimely aware that this verges on absurdity, if not comedy, but avows that, no, in fact, the fly’s death is death in whole, death in its totality, as present and significant as anywhere else on the globe. I read the passage with a feeling of awe and incredulity, wondering if that observation were not rich with irony. But no. It’s a staggering thought, made lucid by short, lucid sentences, a sustained reflection on solitude, and a sense of quiet patience.
The three shorter texts that come after “Ecrire” and “La mort du jeune aviateur anglais” were quite various, and not very memorable. I found it very hard to relate two of them to the rest of the book’s contents at all. This was a little frustrating, and I’m left wondering if I didn’t approach the book with the right mindset or patience. I was under the impression that the book was a unified work, and not, let’s say, an after-the-fact collection of various short pieces. At this time I’m not really inclined to even try to figure that one out.
Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) was a dynamo of letters, and I look forward to reading more of her work, in particular La douleur (1985) and L’Amour (1971). Any other recommendations from readers, possibly yourself, are welcome.