Sketches of pain

<strong>Wartime Notebooks</strong>

Marguerite Duras <em>Quercus, 400pp, £19.99</em>

Drawn from the early notebooks of the French novelist and playwright Marguerite Duras, written between 1943 and 1949, this collection deals with the horrors of the Second World War and the writer’s personal battle with the demons of her own childhood. It also exposes the themes that dominate her novels, such as the Prix Goncourt-winning The Lover. Duras describes her childhood as a “shadow” that has chased her throughout her adult life and cast itself over her art, in work veering from extremes of self-absorption to the remarkable critical detachment of an onlooker.

This well-translated volume retains the anguish, rage and courage of Duras’s voice as it recounts her early years spent in the paddyfields of French Indochina, where she was beaten by her mother and brother; her troubled adolescence, involving a degrading relationship to a wealthy man that bordered on prostitution; the death of her son; her engagement with communism; and the imprisonment in Dachau of her husband, the philosopher Robert Antelme.

Wartime Notebooks lays bare, in honest, agonised prose, what it feels like to be dehumanised (she is throughout her life slandered as a bitch, a tart and a louse) and what it feels like to witness the process on the grand scale of war.

This article first appeared in the 25 February 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan reborn