The Sailor from Gibraltar Paperback – 1 Mar 1986
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Crisp, concentrated, always sharply in focus and sometimes deeply moving --The Guardian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
One of the most prolific contemporary female novelists of our time, Marguerite Duras had a special understanding of her own sex, its problems with love, loyalty and personal obsessions. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The beginning felt slow, but that's because Duras has a tendency to describe things so dispassionately that it feels dull. Later in the novel, all those descriptions had laid a necessary foundation for events and conversations that would have seemed completely disjointed without a solid background. The plot sounds like a soap opera: man on vacation decides to leave boring girlfriend and dull job meets a rich widow sailing around the world in search of long lost lover. However, and thank goodness, it's not that simple, and not nearly that sappy. Both man and woman aggressively resist falling in love. Neither of them want to, but they do, but they don't.... Plus, there are a handful of colorful characters they meet and travel with along the way.
It's a character-intense novel that uses a simple plot as a basis to develop complicated personalities and relationships. Special bonus, it's out of print - so you can read something unusual and spark conversation yourself!
I recommend this for folks who like to analyze and then re-analyze followed by over-analyze life's happenings and participants. Be prepared to not want to put it down towards the end!
Reading almost any section of this book without knowing the author or when it was published and you would still know French, 1950s. Languid sums it up. The narrator has worked for eight years transcribing birth and death certificates for the government. His girl friend works in the same office. Everyone, including the narrator, agrees that this (both the job and the girl) need to be jettisoned, but our narrator can only bring himself to sigh, nod in agreement and do nothing.
Events transpire and for some reason he ditches everything: job, girl, suitcase with all his belongings, and joins the rich young beautiful widow who inherited endless wealth and a huge yacht from her United States husband who kills himself when she leaves him after a couple of years. She in turn spends her life, and the book, searching for her lover, a mysterious murderer known only as the Sailor from Gibraltar. If the plot sounds looney, it is, but it doesn't matter. The plot isn't the point. This, as with much of Duras, is a book to read when young, sitting for days at a cafe nursing a cup of coffee or a Pernod with a cigarette (yes, the cigarette is obligatory) while sighing every few minutes. First look at the yacht? "It filled me with a sort of crushing torpor."
Oh life. No one understands me, what shall I do? What is the meaning of my life? Why haven't I quit this pathetic excuse for a life that I am living and just go wherever the wind carries me (though with an endlessly rich and beautiful lover certainly makes it easier)?
Well written and evocative, but oh so of its time and place!
"Looking for someone is like everything else: to do it well you must do nothing else, you mustn't even regret giving up any other activity, you must never doubt for a moment that it's worthwhile for one man to devote his whole life to looking for another."
Anna, the rich woman, follows tips sent her by agents (former lovers) from all over the world in search of her runaway sailor. They crisscross the Mediterranean, then voyage to West Africa and finally the Congo on tips that he has been seen running a gas station one place, smuggling diamonds somewhere else.
Anna admits that she is almost relieved when each lead turns up false and the quest can go on. Does she even want to find sailor at this point, or is the search all that matters? "Sometimes it's not what you desire the most that you want, but the opposite--to be deprived of what you desire the most."
Passing at night into the Atlantic, the narrator muses, "We left the Rock behind, and with it the disturbing and vertiginous reality of the world... She turned at last and looked at me. 'Suppose I'd invented it all?' she said. 'All of it?' 'Yes.' 'It wouldn't make much difference,' I said."
The meaning of life--"God" if you wish--is never something we find, only something we look for. Life's purpose is only the journey, not the destination.
Anna asks the narrator at one point what he will do with the rest of his life, and he replies that he will write an American novel about their time together. Why American? Because in American novels they drink whiskey, and he and Anna are drinking it then. They both drink a lot, in fact, and the narrator's moments of sobriety are very few. In style, content and setting Duras's writing here much resembles that of Ernest Hemingway, and there are several references to Hemingway in the novel itself. I found even more similarity between The Sailor from Gibraltar and the work of Duras's American contemporary, Paul Bowles.
The plot is deceptively simple; it starts with the narrator, who is on vacation from a Bartleby-like job in the Foreign Service, where he copies birth and death certificates. He is oppressed by the heat, often drunken and annoyed with his mistress who insists on playing the tourist and has expectations of marriage. Feeling trapped, the narrator abandons her and his job in a little Italian coastal village in favor of Anna, a mysterious widow who searches the ocean in her yacht for the sailor from Gibraltar, a fugitive murderer with whom she had an affair as a young woman.
The real story takes place in the subtle nuances of the narrator's growing relationship with Anna, the crew of the yacht and the influence of the unseen sailor from Gibraltar. The characters are selfish, indulgent, and often ridiculous and yet it is compelling to watch them in their lazy and never ending quest for the sailor. Even these vapid individuals become existential fodder for Duras.
Indeed, seems to come out of the same world from which Albert Camus wrote The Stranger. In this world, the heat of the sun could make you quit your job, abandon your mistress and travel around the world or murder a man.
It is no surprise that The Sailor from Gibraltar was adapted for film. Duras conjures intense, haunting imagery. I can almost see the camera angles and the shimmer of sunlight reflecting off sand and water.
This is the second imprint from Open Letter Books that I have read and if their choices for works in translation continue to be this good, I will start to seek out more works from their catalog. Kudos to Barbara Bray for a dazzling translation.