Monday, June 9, 2014

The Vice Consul by Marguerite Duras

The Vice-Consul by Marguerite Duras is on the 'published in 1966' list of to-read books. Duras was born in 1914 in Vietnam. 1001 Books states that the novel "might be categorized as a nouveau roman", a literary term coined in France in the 1950s to describe experimental styles of writing, explaining that it "rejects traditional conventions of realist fiction, such as morality and psychology, in favor of the visual, even cinematic, description of action."


Drawing on her experiences, The Vice-Consul follows two stories, that of a young pregnant Vietnamese peasant girl turned from home by her mother and characters in the French Embassy in Calcutta, particularly the Vice-Consul of Lahore who through several actions creates a scandal.

It is Duras's style of writing that draws attention to this novel, the question of the identity of the writer telling the tale and the identity of the subject of the story.

Born in Saigon, then in French Indochina, her parents had responded to a campaign by the French Government for workers in the colony. Her father falling ill soon after arrival returned to France where he died and her mother stayed with the three children living a difficult life in relative poverty due to bad investments in Cambodia. As a teenager she has an affair with a rich merchant and left for France to study aged seventeen.

Duras joined the French Communist Party after completing her studies and worked for the government representing Indochina. During the war she worked for the Vichy government but was also a member of the Resistance. For his involvement her husband was transported to and survived the German prison camp Buchenwald. Born Donnadieu, Duras took her name in 1943 when her first novel was published, using the name of the village where her father originated from.

As well as being the author of many novels she was the screenwriter of the film Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). She struggled with alcohol through her adult life and died aged 81.

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