Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reading in Retrospect: "Summer Rain" by Marguerite Duras

Literary amnesia notwithstanding, I find it odd that I have absolutely no recollection of reading this book. Not even when I try to refresh my memory by re-reading my old notes from nearly 6 years ago. I know I read it--I still have the book, it's sitting under my elbow right now--but, though I have physical proof, I have no mental proof. This is especially surprising because it sounds like quite an interesting book. In reading what I wrote about it, I am intrigued and wondering if maybe I ought to read it again.

Originally published in French as La pluie d'été in 1990 (of course I read an English translation), this is a very short book with small pages and lots of gaps between paragraphs, but not necessarily a fast read. Apparently I found it rather bizarre. I wasn't quite sure I actually understood it all. I hate to admit it, but I think it was slightly over my head.

Here's what I wrote down as a synopsis six years ago: A poor welfare family lives in Vitry, a rundown suburb of Paris. The father and mother are foreigners, Emilio from the Po valley in Italy and the mother (sometimes Natasha, sometimes other names that I don’t recall at the moment and can’t quickly find by flipping through the book) of indeterminate origins (she claims she doesn’t remember where she’s from, although she did at one point live in, or at least travel through, Siberia).

This mother and father like to read a lot, though they mostly just read books that they find in trash heaps. The mother is very fair and beautiful, the father dark and wiry. They have seven children. I am not sure that the younger ones are ever mentioned by name, but the two oldest are Ernesto and Jeanne. Jeanne is beautiful, just like her mother. Both of these children are supposed to be very young (Ernesto 12 and Jeanne 11, or perhaps they are twins, it is ambiguous) but they look older (Ernesto looks like he might be in his 20s, and perhaps he actually is; this is never made quite clear).

All of the children are neglected, as the parents send them out of the house in the morning and don’t let them back in until supper time. Neither the mother nor the father has a job. Sometimes they go into town to drink all night, leaving the children home alone. None of the children have ever gone to school, and they can not read or write. (Side note: isn't that odd for parents who love to read?)

They finally decide to send Ernesto to school, but he only lasts ten days before he walks out because “they teach me things I don’t know.” He continues to get an education by listening in at the school windows when it suits him, and when he finishes with the lower schools, he goes on to University classes. Turns out he must be some kind of genius, because he amasses knowledge without being taught. In fact, it seems that he teaches himself to read with no help.

Jeanne also starts to attend school but only goes for four days, and she doesn’t seem to have Ernesto’s genius. However, there is some kind of odd connection between Ernesto and Jeanne. They are very much in love with each other, and although it is not spelled out word for word, incest is hinted at between the two.

Bottom line: whatever “it” is, I don’t think I got “it”. This might be an interesting book to read for Book Club . . . maybe someone there could explain it to me. Oh, and speaking of Book Club, you can read what Lydia though of our first meeting here.

Here's something I found out just today: this book is a little bit backwards, because it was first a movie instead of the other way around. It's definitely not like one of those Disney "movie novelizations," in case you hadn't already gathered that from my synopsis. Anyway, the 1984 movie was called Les enfants ("The Children") and the book's author was one of the movie's directors. Too bad it's not available through netflix.

Have you heard of the book, the movie, or the author? I didn't recognize any of her other works, even though there were more than a dozen listed at the front of the book.


Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Interesting synopsis, but I can see why you might not remember reading it -- it doesn't sound overwhelmingly like you can get really into it?

Chris said...

I find it really interesting that you keep notes on books you read, do you file them away somewhere? If I can't remember anything about a book I read I usually refer to my Shelfari shelf for a reminder.

From reading the review i'm not convinced it's a book I would enjoy; confusing stories with incest aren't usually my thing! lol

Kristi said...

I have done this with so many books. I know I read them but I have no recollection. At least you were smart enough to take notes on it.

That is really odd about it being a movie first, then a novel.

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

Does sound a bit bizarre-- Seems like I've seen Les Enfants on the IFC guide-- I'll watch it or at least a bit of it next time I see it pop up.

Kathy said...

Natalie--is that a nice way of saying it sounds really boring? ;)

Chris--I haven't kept notes on all the books I've read (though sometimes I wish I had!) but several years ago, over a period of a few months, I did write my own little reviews of each book I read. These have been turning into my "nostalgia posts." If you are interested, there is a slightly more detailed explanation here. And yes, I must agree that a "confusing story with incest" doesn't sound especially appealing!

Kristi--So you are a literary amnesiac too! ;) It is frustrating when I think I have read a book but I have absolutely no proof. That is why books like The Count of Monte Cristo are on my TBR list. I'm just sure I've read it, even to the point that I remember I really liked it . . . but then I'm not sure. Maybe I just watched the movie?!

Lesa--At first I thought this was the movie that netflix has been pushing on me for months, but when I went to look I saw it was a different movie ("Au revoir les enfants"). It would have been too weird if netflix had been trying to get me to watch the movie that is related to this book!! Like, how would they KNOW?? Anyway, if you do happen to see "Les Enfans" (sans au revoir) you'll have to let me know what you think!

She said...

It's interesting that it was a movie first. Maybe watching that would make the book itself more clear...

or maybe not, haha!

Kathy said...

I have wondered the same thing! Usually, because of the amount of detail found in the book that just can't be expressed as clearly in a movie, the book will make the movie more clear . . . but if the movie came first? Hmmm.

Aditi said...

I can totally connect to what you wrote! To add to the confusion,I read it in french! It seems to me (entirely my opinion) that a lot of french authors like their story lines open to million interpretations!:)

Kathy said...

Hi Aditi! It's funny, I would think that reading it in its original language would decrease the confusion rather than adding to it. (Except for people like me--my French is pretty bad . . . )