How to render emotion on the page (THE LOVER)

Marguerite Duras’ THE LOVER (“L’Amant in the original French) is a semi-autobiographical story of forbidden love between a 15-year-old French girl and her 27-year-old Chinese lover, the son of a millionaire. The nameless young woman, the narrator of this story, comes from an abusive family, and this causes her to be emotionally shut down. Thus Duras has the difficult task of rendering emotion on the page via a character who doesn’t have easy access to her emotions. Throughout this story, Duras deploys silence as a way of expressing emotion:

Never a hello, a good evening, a happy New Year. Never a thank you. Never any talk. Never any need to talk. Everything always silent, distant. It’s a family of stone, petrified so deeply it’s impenetrable. Every day we try to kill one another, to kill. (54)

The emotional information is given via the narrator’s internal monologue. The sentences are carefully put together to build an arc of tension. In the first and second sentences, Duras lists common greetings that have become so familiar they are clichés. Thus the emotional energy is low. Then the tension is raised in the third sentence when we learn that these people never talk, and in the fourth sentence that they don’t need to talk. Sentence five builds on this thought, while sentence six provides a description of this family by using a metaphor that likens it to stone: “It’s a family of stone, petrified so deeply it’s impenetrable.” (54) This metaphor brings other images to mind. Stone is cold, hard, unyielding, inflexible. It explains this family brilliantly. If that were not enough, the next sentence raises the stakes even more: “Every day we try to kill one another, to kill.” (54) The violence of this sentence enacts the emotions powerfully on this page, pulling the reader in. It tells us that silence is habitually used by this family as a weapon to kill. Notice how effectively Duras uses repetition to make her point more powerful. I highly recommend this novel. Five stars.