6 May 2018

Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia | The Little Horses of Tarquinia (1953)

It doesn't matter whose round it is: it's too hot to do or think anything: first person at the bar just order the bitter Camparis, they'll do the job for a short time: forget problems, forget the monotony of life, including the holiday we're on, let's just get numb. In a sense, that's the main thrust of this novel coming immediately after Le Marin de Gibraltar: the emphasis is still on absurdity and futility.

Marguerite Duras is strongly influenced by Elio Vittorini here, the Italian writer whose representation is Ludi, as his wife Ginetta's is Gina. Duras, as usual, had Robert Antelme and Dionys Masolo read the manuscript first, and they both considered it unpublishable, too close to reality and obscene in the light that it casts on the Vittorinis. True to form, Duras had it published in its initial state and even dedicated it to Ginetta and Elio. Interestingly, like Le Marin de Gibraltar, Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia only mentions but doesn't introduce its title subject: it's as though the heart is missing, although I won't dwell on missing hearts.

Yes, conversations here are both absurd and futile, although it could be argued that Duras does them really well, even does drunken conversations as well as Patrick Hamilton does drunken conversations. The main interest, though, I reckon, is in how the characters perform in these situations. Gina can't understand why Ludi (and how many games are going on here?) won't accept that people change, and she no longer likes climbing in the mountains; Ludi can't relate to the fact that Gina gives his beloved pâtes alla vongole away to the elderly couple who've lost their son in a landmine disaster. But I digress. Or do I? Isn't digression one of the major themes here, talk filling in non-existent gaps, mindless gabble for the sake of mindless gabble. Or is this the flipside of Le Marin de Gibraltar, where the words 'Je t'aime' (or something much more inconsequential, therefore much more meaningful) would have changed everything? (For how long we don't know, but is that of importance?)

Can Gina escape? She probably doesn't want to, and her outbursts – in tandem with her husband calling her an espèce de connasse in public (and remember this is 1953) – no doubt just represent a damp squib of discontent rather than a real cry of help. Even Sara's dalliance with the man with the boat seems to be just that, so she returns to Jaques, their young son and their insolent maid. Is the insanity of love just the need for exotic sex, a cry for help in the bottomless chaos of life?

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