7 May 2018

Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas | The Afternoon of Mr Andesmas (1962)

This is a fascinating experimental novel with an invented surname Andesmas borrowed from the first syllable of the  names of three men who complained that Marguerite published too much: Robert ANtelme, Louis-René DES Forêts, and Dionys MAScolo. No doubt there are a number of other playful things here, and I note that one scholarly article has been written about the significance of the number eight in this and Duras's novel Moderato cantabile. I did notice that the song heard from the village square is Juliette Gréco's 'The Square', which is of course also the name of another of Duras's novels.

This is minimalism, and indeed the novel reminds of something from Beckett, and it would make an interesting (if very undramatic) play. Rich and obese Andesmas, aged seventy-eight and a former businessman, spends the final part of his life creaking in a wicker chair on the platform of a hillside house in the forest: he's bought it for his daughter Valérie and is waiting for the architect Michel Arc to come and give him an estimate for the elaborate terrace he wants Valérie to enjoy. But Arc doesn't arrive on time and Andesmas is very concerned about this, dwelling on the past, present and future, while sounds of a celebration in the village below – in which Arc is enjoying the company of the young Valérie – drift up to him.

The book is largely static in terms of action: a yellow dog, a little put out by a human presence, walks by; a girl the same age as Valérie, who is actually Arc's eldest daughter and has a mental problem,visits Andesmas on two occasions, the first to tell him that her father will be late; and Arc's wife announces that Arc will turn up and stays with him until the novel ends, having a kind of soothing effect on him. There's something about Duras that makes me want to continue reading her work.

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