Reading Marguerite Duras’s short novel L’Amour, written in 1971 and translated for the first time into English with this 2013 Open Letter edition, is like watching a film of silvery images unwind against a muted seascape of sand and salt. An occasional flash of color punctuates. Blue eyes. Green plants. A pink dawn. And throughout the novel the nameless survivors of concealed histories—The Man Who Walks, The Woman With Closed Eyes, The Traveler—group and regroup on the beach, along the river and in the mythical town of S. Thala in a never-ending, enigmatic dance of desire and entanglement.
In a world where secrets are manifest but never revealed, Duras’ rendering of the painful aftermath of aborted love takes the form of a tortured tango in which the three protagonists take part.
At the outset of the novel the author silhouettes two words against the page, a sentence fragment which freezes the image of a man against an uncertain backdrop:
Standing, watching: the beach, the sea. The sea is calm, flat; season indefinite, moment lingering.
The man stands on a boardwalk over the sand.
He wears dark clothes. His face distinct.
His eyes clear.
He does not move. He watches.
The sea, the beach, a few tidal pools, flat surfaces of water….
But the lens then widens to reveal that this man, The Traveler, is not alone. Far off, between The Traveler and the sea, at the edge of the water, strides another man: ‘The Man Who Walks.’
Between the man who watches and the sea, far off, all the way at the water’s edge, someone walking. Another man. Wearing dark clothes. From here his face is indistinct. He walks, going, coming, he goes, comes again, his path is rather long, never changing….
To the left of the Traveler, The Woman With Closed Eyes sits against the stone wall that separates the beach from the town:
The triangle is completed by the woman with closed eyes. She is sitting against the wall that separates the beach from the town.
The man who watches is between this woman and the man who walks along the edge of the sea.
Because of the man who walks, constantly with his slow even
stride, the triangle stretches long, reforms, but never breaks.
This man has the even steps of a prisoner….
The three-sided tango begins. At first static, the triangle shifts and comes undone, reforms and comes apart, and then reforms again as the characters move through space.
The man is still walking, coming, going, before the sea, the sky, but the man who was watching has moved.
The even sliding of the triangle ceases.
He begins to walk.
Someone walks, nearby.
The man who was watching passes between the woman with closed eyes and the other, far away, the one who goes, who comes, a prisoner. You hear the hammering of his steps on the boardwalk.
His steps are uneven, hesitant.
The triangle comes undone, reforms. [4-5]
In continual flux, this shape-changing triangle is the foundation of the novel; it is both metaphor and metonym that eliminates the need for explanation. The reader learns only that The Traveler, having abandoned his wife and children, returns to S. Thala to commit suicide. The Woman With Closed Eyes lives in a prison-like institution; she is followed by a mad caretaker, The Man Who Walks. The story that involves them “began before the walk along the edge of the sea” in the opening pages. As the sea has washed the sands in the interim, so has time washed memory from the minds of the characters.
See Numéro Cinq, October 2013 issue, to read the rest of this review.