8th March 2014 - Joanna Walsh
Today is International Women's Day, an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide and to encourage the next generation to contine the campaign for equality.
#readwomen2014 is a year-long campaign set up by writer Joanna Walsh, author of short story collection Fractals, to draw attention to the continued under-representation of women in reviews, as reviewers and on the bookshelves of bookshops and readers.
Here Joanna tells us about how she discovered Marguerite Duras (right), an author who was to have a profound influence on her own writing.
I started reading Marguerite Duras one spring, on a train from Paris to Nice. I had lost someone I had loved, and, feeling lost, I was trying to find my way back by going away. 'The story of my life doesn't exist,' I read, as the train passed from long flat fields ploughed by clouds into cuttings of red rock sprouting umbrella palms, 'Does not exist. There's never any centre to it. No path, no line. There are great spaces where you pretend there used to be someone, but it's not true, there was no one.' This was Duras writing The Lover. She was in her late sixties, and this was the third time she'd tried to trace this particular story on paper (earlier versions had been published as autobiography, and as the novel, The North China Lover. She also wrote it as a film script). A famous and respected writer, she was still searching, still turning over the same material to see what was, what could be, there.
She cut, and recut her story, which is something I do too, though, unlike Duras, I have never written for the movies. Another screenwriter, Joan Didion, also uses what she calls 'jump-cuts': sudden non-linear leaps, juxtaposed scenes and images, not for effect, but because this is how life is.
The Lover is a novel made out of gaps, out of nothings, of photos whose moment of taking and whose photographer (was it her missing father?) are forgotten, and in which it is near-impossible to join memory to image.
On the train to Nice, I read in French and, skimming quickly over the language's double-negatives, I thought, briefly, that Duras' heroine/avatar told me, 'To write is not nothing' but no: Duras points out, as she does so blankly, of so many things in so much of her work, 'It's not true.' What she says is, 'If writing isn't all things, all contraries confounded, a quest for vanity and the void, it's nothing.'
I didn't find what I was looking for in The Lover, it being so much less about romantic, and so much more about family, love, and hate, than I had supposed it might be, but I started writing partly because Marguerite Duras told me it was ok - not only not to know who I was or where I was going, but that not to feel like a subject could itself be a subject.