Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Review: The Vice-Consul

The Vice-Consul by Marguerite Duras - originally in French
*Click on post title for NYT article on Duras*

This slim and beguiling novel caught my eye at the small bookstore in Ramona that smells strongly of urine and has a fantastically eclectic and old store of fiction.
I had seen the movie ' The Lover ' but never read any of Marguerite Duras' books, and I immediately pulled the pink book from it's fellows and stacked on top of my pile.

The novel is of a kind that would find it near impossible to be published here and now, as it meets little of the random and stifling criteria for ' good literature ' that is often taught or picked up through reviewers and critique. There is little in the way of plot. Characters have random, odd conversations we do not understand which lead nowhere:

excerpt pg. 113

' I know you, ' she says. ' There's nothing more we need to know about one another. I think you may be mistaken about me. I hope not. '
' I am not mistaken. '
' I do not take life very seriously '- she tries to withdraw her hand- ' that's my way. As far as I'm concerned, the things everyone says are true, completely, profoundly true. '
' It's no use going back on it. It's too late now. '
There is a silence. It is she who breaks it:
' That's true. '
' You are close to me. '
' Yes. '
' Stay with me, ' he begs her, ' now. What did you say? '
' Nothing that matters. '
' We are going to be separated. '
' I am close to you. '
' Yes. '

End excerpt

The opening of the book is as enigmatic, following the ramblings and horrific but muted story of a young pregnant girl in India rejected from her home and sent off to birth her baby in the wild.

The story follows this girl's increasingly disjointed and bizarre path, distorted with hunger she becomes more and more removed from humanity- intermixed with the 'story' of the Vice-Consul and his interactions with the French ambassador's wife in Calcutta, India.

In addition to lack of action, the book is written in a romantic style, thick with atmosphere and subconscious rumblings, mysteries hinted at but never revealed, lives lived but never understood--

This is it's 'great and terrible beauty'. As a poet, I am enamored and enslaved to the mystery of life, a constant interior understanding I carry of the magnificence and horror of the enormous mysteries surrounding us, inside of us; this modern time has no patience for mysteries. We want to disassemble, re-create, formulate, explain and subject the very essence of life to our total comprehension and creation. Many modern novels are hyper-text of this great subtext: listing and naming and labeling and verbatim of societies frills: the ' Corolla ' from Don DeLillo's White Noise. Even much modern poetry seems to fear the mystery- all must be revealed and explained; what if the reader does not immediately understand?

Marguerite Duras' great genius is her lack of concern for our understanding- instead we get the beautiful, evocative and magnificently created world of herunderstanding. There is much not explained in this novel, thankfully, for it is the mystery that sent chills up my arms as I read passages that swept me away to another place, another sensibility, another life.
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