Wartime Notebooks

Written by Linda Coverdale (trans.) Marguerite Duras Sophie Bogaert and Olivier Corpet (eds.)
Review by Sarah Bower

This is a difficult book to categorise as Duras’s notebooks, like those of most writers, are an amalgam of different things. The book contains material edited from four notebooks kept by Duras between 1943 and 1949 in which she collected an assortment of reminiscences, story drafts and philosophical reflections which, together, make up much of the raw material for her best-known works, The Lover and La Douleur. As such, it is not only important for admirers of Duras but also bears witness to the history of those years in France and of French Indochina in the 1920s, where Duras grew up.

The writing is wonderful – dense, passionate, heartbreaking and filled with an angry, mordant wit. The author looks at herself and her times with unflinching honesty and directness. She examines love and loss, adolescence, war and politics scrupulously and remorselessly, and it is particularly fascinating to see, through these informal, unfinished pieces, how she gropes towards the expression she wants, phrasing and rephrasing, building layers of meaning.

An informative companion piece to her novels, but also a masterpiece in its own right, full of detail and atmosphere and the revealed workings of a great writer’s creative process.