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July 27, 2017


What do I do with Campari, Marguerite Duras?

by NancyElin

  • Ever since I read Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia
  • …by Margariet Duras….I’ve have had a bottle of Campari in the house.
  • But I don’t know what to do with Campari!
  • Duras used the aperitif as a motif in her book.
  • Bitter Campari
  • The pervasive consumption of alcohol throughout the story
  • …Campari is mentioned 50 times
  • sharpens the feeling of boredom, emptiness  during the vacation.
  • As the character Diana says:    “C’est la magique!” (pg 48)
  • I finally found a cocktail that I can enjoy this summer with Duras!


Campari Spritz:

  1. It’s served with a green olive, which is a surprisingly
  2. delicious partner for the tangy, slightly bitter cocktail.

UPDATE:   28 July 2017

  • I increased the Prosecco to 120 ml
  • …and did not bother with the club soda!
  • This is a delicious summer cocktail!
  1. Ingredients
  2. 60 ml  Prosecco or other sparkling wine
  3. 30 ml  club soda
  4. 60 ml  Campari
  5. garnish: 1 large green olive, or 3 small olives

    • Author: M Duras
    • Title: Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia
    • Published: 1953
    • Language: French



    1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
    The group wants to visit Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia (pg 160 and 166, 217). Some members in the group must decide to ‘stay together’ or refuse to join the trip.

    2. What is the predominant element in the story?
    Setting: Oppressive heat, no wind, sun burning like a furnace influences the character’s mood.
    There is no rain to quench this parched earth. The only escape is the sea.
    There is a forest fire creeping slowly towards the village, a river that marks the dividing line for Sara (main character) between staying in a loveless marriage or crossing over to the other side and a new life.

    3. Who is the single main character about. whom the story centres?
    Sara is the main character.

    4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
    a. External – Sara is trying to overcome a personal crisis in her marriage.
    b. Internal – Sara must choose: love with it’s ups and downs or the thrill of desire.

    5. How is the conflict resolved?
    Sara has difficulty saying what she thinks about her marriage. Finally she has reached a point of no return. Sara and Jacques decide to let each other be ‘free’.  If Sara returns to him…then he knows it was her choice.

    6. How does the author handle characterisation?
    a. Description – all the characters are nameless except for the members in the group. This is done to intensify the reader’s focus on these individuals.
    Finally we know name ‘homme’ (Jean, pg 112, 172, 173) and nanny (Jeanne, pg 116) but Duras does not use the names in the rest of the story.
    b. Conversation –  personalities emerge during  the conversation among SJGL.
    Half way through the book Sara decides to say the truth for a change to her husband after being seduced by ‘homme’:  I feel like cheating (have an affair)….like you do!
    Could this be the point of no return for Sara? (pg 114)

    7. Who tells the story? What point of view is used?
    a. Third person narrator

    8. Where does the primary action take place?
    Characters have been in the isolated Italian vacation village for two weeks when the book starts. They are lethargic, bored, and desperate for a cool breeze while spinning ice cubes in their drinks.

    9. What is the season? time of day?
    Torrid heat, sun burning like a furnace, summer vacation in isolated Italian village.

    10. How much time does the story cover? timeline?
    Four days

    11. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
    Sara and Jacques are waiting for their friends to arrive Gina and Ludi.
    They always vacation with them.

    12. Briefly describe the rising action of the story.
    Slowly cracks are showing in this ‘group friendship.’ (pg 97) The tension increases when a mystery  man (homme) arrives in the village. He has his eye on Sara. She is swept away by the idea of being a object of desire.

    13. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
    After 3 days of seduction ‘homme’ waits for Sara to meet him for their night of love.

    14. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
    I’d rather not  reveal any information about this because it would spoil the story.

    15. Does this story create any special mood?
    Boredom of the characters drips off the pages….still I feel a ominous tension.
    Friendship (in group) can be just as complicated as love (between partners).

    16. Is this story realistic or true to life?
    Love: Sara’s situation is universal: by getting what she most desires (the thrill of being object of desire for ‘homme’) she loses more than she gets.
    Desire is for the moment, love is for a lifetime.
    Friendship: Jacques describes their group think:
    We are all fools, but we are endowed with the same stupidity, that’s why we get along well with each other. (pg 77)

    17. Are the events  presented in flashback or in chronological order? (structure)
    The book is divided into four parts representing four chronological days.
    There was one strange flashback about the death of Sara’s brother. When he died so did her childhood (pg 54). It never connected to any part of the story. Very strange.

    19. What is the general theme of the story?
    Allow yourself the possibility of failure (Sara decision to yield to her desire or not).
    Only then do you increase your chances of success (keeping her marriage together).

    20. Did you identify with any of the characters?
    ‘l’homme’: I didn’t really have much interest in bored women on vacation (Sara, Diana and Gina).
    I did feel  an intense interest for ‘homme’. He was 30 yr., nameless throughout the book, no face, no features. But he was a constant threat. Duras used this ‘suspense’ to keep the reader enthralled. Who is he? What is he planning to do?

    24. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the reader?
    The main character asks what is love?
    “Love is an predetermined misfortune, you can’t escape it.” (pg 72)

    25. Name one major personality trait of each leading character.
    Sara does not say what she thinks. She conceals her feelings.

    26. Does the story have a message? what was the purpose of the author ?
    The effect of group membership on individual behavior.
    At times it can feel oppressing (just like the hear), yet it can be the support you need at difficult times in your life.

    27. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
    a. Symbolism: The river: When Sara is kissed for the first time by ‘homme’ she sees the reflection on the river in his eyes.  The river represents the freedom Sara can have (leave a loveless marriage) if she only dares to let go and flow with the river.
    b. Motif: Bitter Campari. The pervasive consumption of alcohol throughout the story (mentioned 50 x) sharpens the feeling of boredom, emptiness  during the vacation. As Diana says:
    “C’est la magique!” (pg 48)
    c. Irony: Sara refuses an invitation for a boat ride, she wants to consult with the group. (pg 29). Ironically on pg 76 she says  ‘l’homme’ should think and do what he wants! This is an important element in the story group vs individual.

    There is NO action…only and exchange of thoughts, feelings, desires and fears.
    Yet I read every page.
    Duras describes the monotonous vacation days of 4 middle age adults.
    Each part has these basic scenes: vacation  bungalow, swim at the beach, drinks at the hotel and back to the bungalow.
    Strong point: the tension Duras created around ‘mystery man, Sara’s eagerness to go on his boat (even though she cannot swim) and her four year old child (mystery man takes a strong interest in the young boy).
    Weak point: subplot about an elderly couple who refuse to sign son’s death certificate. This part of the story felt out of place with the rest of the  languid mood.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 27 2017

    Love the sound of the cocktail, and adding it to your review! Sounds both intriguing and tiresome, being on vacation with that lot! Hope you are enjoying the summer, sipping your cocktail with a green olive!

    • Jul 28 2017

      I never really noticed what characters were drinking in books! But Duras made Campari the linchpin that held the vacationing friends together….in a complicated structure! Yes, I am enjoying my project as an amateur ‘mixologist’ ! Hope you all are having a good summer despite the forest fires in south of France!

      • Jul 28 2017

        It’s a staycation summer for me, but even that has become quite literally as there are fires near the beach I like to go and I’ve been stopped by pompiers on my way too see a client, so on high alert to check for smoke whenever I go out and have seen it far too often for my liking, but in slow mode so enjoying the work/rest combination without kid school routines.

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