I am forever trapped by this story, this face, this body, this head.
This is the first time The Easy Life, Marguerite Duras’s second novel, has been released in English, originally published in 1944. The foreword, written by Kate Zambreno, introduces what Duras was going through when she wrote the story, her husband a prisoner at Buchenwald, her brother’s death, the loss of her child… it makes sense why such a heavy grief permeates the novel. Zambreno’s thoughts are a beautiful read, don’t skip it. It’s strange to think the ambivalence that a woman can feel about her own life reaches across time to other women, her worries just as relevant today. It’s not always uncertainty, though, there are waves of fear, grief, shame, hope, hunger, boredom, passion, desire and apathy. Francine Veyrenattes is twenty-five years old, while she witnesses tragedies on her family farm, seeks a lover, one asks… what part has she played in these horrible events? In the beginning we learn that Jérôme, Francine’s uncle, is broken in two after a devastatingly brutal fight with her brother, Nicolas. Francine is proud of her little brother, intoxicated by his power. It is all because of Clémence, her brother’s wife, that the rage is born. There is righteousness there, if only she can make Nicolas realize that. What is meant to be a ‘step into freedom’ leads to unforeseen events. Their lives have, for a long time, been one of chaos and boredom in Les Bugues. Francine feels that time is gnawing at them, and the thing she thought would fix everything hasn’t, instead her brother changes, and the arrival of Luce is loaded with possibilities, not all of them good. Her parents are at a remove, there “to be able to kiss them and smell their scent”. For comfort there is Francine’s growing passion for Tiène, who asks her uncomfortable questions about her intentions that led to the violence between her brother and uncle. It isn’t long before they are lying pressed together. Francine spends a lot of time caring for her nephew, Nicholas and Clémence’s son. Death visits again, in fact, the fate of men don’t bode well here.
Wrestling with immense grief, Francine leaves her family and Tiène for T., an Atlantic beach her family once wanted to vacation at. She longs to know the sea and herself, who is slipping away. There doesn’t seem to be a reprieve from the misery she left behind and though she claims nothing is happening, and everything is calm, her mind is as restless as the ocean. Pondering her own future seems ludicrous when another lies in the ground. She thinks of what it means to be a woman, and the abyss women carry “between their legs”, that so many long to fall into. It’s very French. She has a sort of awakening when she is by the sea, maybe that is the most important part of the novel. Her thoughts become almost meditative, a long conversation with that woman staring back at herself in the mirror. Throughout the novel she mentions boredom, but in the face of the destructive things that occur (she isn’t some innocent bystander in it all either) is it really boredom or just a layer over oneself to escape the mundane? Either way, her layers fall off at the beach. It’s funny she is ‘waiting for some event’ to occur in T., what more could? Death, murder, abandonment, her parents devastated… but we do wait, for what we often don’t know. Something strange occurs, and she is asked to leave the hotel, part 3 has Francine returning home to Les Bugues, ready to face her future. It is a novel of grand desires, false serenity and existential anxieties in the rural countryside of southwestern France. It isn’t an easy life at all. What fascinates me is I am currently reading a novel and the inner dialogue of the female character mirrors that of Francine’s, decades apart. A moving read.
Publication Date: December 6, 2022