In Duras’ footsteps. Still at the seaside.

Michaël Samyn, September 10, 2012

Other Marguerite Duras-related seaside features in Bientôt l’été include the pier and the tennis court. The pier is modeled after one of the twin piers in Trouville-sur-Mer, the coastal French town where Duras spent the last decade of her life. Impressive wooden constructions with a small metal lighthouse at the end.

I don’t have any recollection of a pier in the Duras novels I have read. But tennis courts occur often, especially abandoned tennis courts. There’s a fenced off tennis court on the beach not far from her home in Trouville. But I’m sure they appeared in novels from before she lived there. A lot of her work refers in some way to class distinctions (Duras had been a member of the communist party in France). And in her book, tennis is a sport for the idle rich, more specifically for the embassy personnel in the colonies.

I remember a trance-inducing repetition of references in Le Vice-Consul to Anne-Marie Stretter’s lone bicycle leaning against the fence of the abandoned tennis courts in the park of the French embassy in Calcutta. I don’t believe anyone ever actually plays in her novels. The purpose of the tennis courts is to be abandoned. As I’m sure they are in Trouville, most time of the year, when there’s no tourists.

There’s something beautifully melancholic about out of season tourist towns. Especially at the seaside where the cold wind continuously tugs at the closed off attractions while the gulls shriek there terrifying cries.

Gulls. Dead. After a storm. On the beach. Another recurring element in her novels. Also a dog. Also dead. As in L’Amour, where the man had gone to utter an inhuman scream after frustrating encounters with the woman.

The black rock on the beach refers to the Vaches Noires cliffs, a remarkable rock formation on the beach of Villers-sur-Mer, neighboring Trouville, and possibly what gave Duras’ residence its name.

The harbor crane is not necessarily a seaside feature. But it refers to the industrial harbor town in which Moderato Cantabile takes place, the novel that forms the basis of Bientôt l’été. Another class symbol, if you will, contrasting with the tennis court.

The row boat refers to the harbor as well. But a gigantic cruise ship was added because I was very impressed with them in Venice, surreally towering over the delicate stilt constructions. A cruise ship takes the elder brother, and later the rest of the family, back to France at the end of L’Amant de la Chine du Nord. So there’s still a link with Duras.

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