I can sum this book up in one conversation I had with a French friend:
Me: "Hey, so I'm reading a book by Marguerite Duras..."
Them: "Oh no! No! You can't be reading Marguerite Duras. It's terrible."
Me: "But I didn't even tell you which book I'm reading."
Them: "It doesn't matter, they're all terrible. Please tell me you aren't trying to read it in French. Not even native French speakers can understand it when it's in French."
And the conversation went on like that. And it's true. I sought out the advice of my French friends after I had already started reading this book because I was having such a difficult time getting through it. I thought maybe it was just a bad translation, but apparently that's just how she writes.
The Lover reads as though Marguerite Duras had a loose-leaf journal that she accidently dropped, or maybe threw against a wall, then picked it back up, not bothering to see if pages were missing or if it was in the correct order, and had it published. She goes from being age 52 in one paragraph to being age 8 in the next. Without a main timeline until the last few pages of the book, The Lover was a confusing read. To add to the confusion was the fact that very few of the characters were named.
The book is autobiographical, talking about the author's time spent in Saigon during the 1930s as a French colonist. During that time she had a Chinese lover, which was unheard of at the time, both because of the racial difference and because of their different social classes (she was poor and he rich). To the other people in the book, including her mother, this made her a prostitute, using him for his money.
Despite my dislike for the book, I did find a few passages I enjoyed, including this description of the dry season in Saigon: "The light fell from the sky in cataracts of pure transparency, in torrents of silence and immobility. The air was blue, you could hold it in your hand. Blue. The sky was the continual throbbing of the brilliance of the light." (Page 86).
Aside from a few lovely passages, I don't understand how this was Duras' most acclaimed work. Perhaps it was the sex scenes, which may have been scandalous in her time. I really don't know. What I do know is this book was barely more than 100 pages and it took me nearly two weeks to get through it. Also, I found the afterword and information about Duras' life to be more interesting than the book she wrote about her life. I'd have preferred to have read a biography written about her than to have read this book.