by Vera Rule THE GUARDIAN, Saturday 29 January 2011
Wartime Notebooks and Other Texts
by Marguerite Duras, Linda Coverdale (translator)
Whether you know what happened to the fragments of writing in this collection when Duras reworked them into her novels, or whether you're reading them raw, with their sudden terminations in mid-paragraph or abrupt notes on how to plot better next time, they are astonishing. They're like being inside the greatest Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs, especially his 1944-45 shots of retribution against collaborators and the repatriation of the almost-dead from Germany's camps; and the colonial, stratified Indochina of her childhood matches his view of French power abroad. There's never any sensation with either of them of emotion being worked up or worked on: it's simply caught, the beating at full fury, the humiliation at extreme shame, the hope at its most desperate – waiting for the return of her skeletal husband from German custody, waiting yet longer to discover whether his body would, could, choose to live or die. I realised in that last account that I'd held my breath for several pages, so unknown had she made the outcome.