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Simple Passion

Simple Passion

5.0 1
by Annie Ernaux, Tanya Leslie

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In her spare, stark style, Annie Ernaux documents the desires and indignities of a human heart ensnared in an all-consuming passion. Blurring the line between fact and fiction, an unnamed narrator attempts to plot the emotional and physical course of her two-year relationship with a married foreigner where every word, event, and person either provides a connection


In her spare, stark style, Annie Ernaux documents the desires and indignities of a human heart ensnared in an all-consuming passion. Blurring the line between fact and fiction, an unnamed narrator attempts to plot the emotional and physical course of her two-year relationship with a married foreigner where every word, event, and person either provides a connection with her beloved or is subject to her cold indifference. With courage and exactitude, she seeks the truth behind an existence lived entirely for someone else, and, in the pieces of its aftermath, she is able to find it.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Because Ernaux has written about her mother ( A Woman's Story ), her father ( A Man's Place ) and herself ( Cleaned Out ), one can almost hear an anxious tremor in the narrator's (Ernaux's?) lover's voice as he says, ``You won't write a book about me.'' But she has. Actually, it's not about him but about their affair and even more about the intense time between their intimacies. ``I've experienced pleasure,'' she says, ``as future pain.'' At the peak of their liaison, the successful, well-educated narrator is able to concentrate only on what furthers or reflects her passions: she shops for clothes, listens to popular songs, reads the horoscopes in women's magazines, watches pornographic television, searches for a theater showing Nagisa Oshima's carnal In the Realm of the Senses and, of course, waits anxiously by the phone. Whether or not ``A,'' a married Eastern European businessman, was ``worth it,'' is, she says, ``of no consequence.'' Ernaux alternates between writerly objectivity and total immersion, blurring the line between fiction and autobiography. Throughout, one finds oneself noting, ``but, of course, this is a novel'' only to add a few pages later ``but, of course, this is real life.'' Since less time has elapsed between events recorded here and those she so poignantly recalled in her earlier books, perhaps it is just this lack of reflective distance that makes Simple Passion less successful than its predecessors. (Sept.)
Library Journal
$15. F In books like A Woman's Story ( LJ 4/1/91) and Cleaned Out ( LJ 12/90), best-selling French novelist Ernaux takes apparently autobiographical facts and constructs perfect little novels in almost unimaginably distilled prose. Here she continues in the same vein. The narrator of her newest work, whom we are persuaded to believe is the author herself, details her passion for a married man. Actually, this is more the story of passionate waiting, and we see how the woman's single-minded attachment to her somewhat careless lover colors everything in her life. The book caused a sensation in France, with many parents refusing to let their children read it. One suspects that the real problem was not the details of love making but the coolly clinical approach, which is almost antierotic and tends to deglamorize something that most of us like to pretend is a big mystery. This is an original work, certainly not for everyone, but worth including in collections for adventuresome readers.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
Donna Seaman
Ernaux, one of France's best-selling and most controversial writers, writes with a spare and intense elegance and intelligence, purposefully blurring the line that usually separates fiction and autobiography. While her last two books were portraits of her own, or her narrator's, parents, this concentrated volume leaves personal history aside and scrutinizes emotions as though they could be scraped from our hearts, placed on a slide, and studied through a microscope. The feelings in question are those of a woman having an affair with a married man--a foreigner with an important job, good suits, and a powerful car. Our narrator is not concerned with describing their encounters, but rather with explaining exactly how she feels when they're apart, how every atom of her being is focused on him and on waiting for his next call, no matter what activities she's engaged in. Ernaux eschews romance; she records no expectations, no delusions. This is, instead, a documentation of pure sexual passion, a verbal diagram of the narcosis of desire.
Kirkus Reviews
In her inimitable spare prose, Ernaux (A Man's Place, 1992, etc.)—like a medieval anatomist bent on finding the soul—dissects a love affair to discover the point of passion. Divorced, with two grown-up sons, the nameless narrator—who, like Ernaux, is also writing her story—describes her year of passion, with the intention of translating into words "the way in which his existence has affected my life." Her lover, also nameless, is a middle-aged businessman, married and posted temporarily to Paris from East Europe: "From September last year," she writes, "I did nothing else but wait for a man: for him to call me and come round to my place. I behaved in an artificial manner. The only actions involving willpower were all related to this man." She then goes on to detail her passion for this lover, who, resembling film star Alain Delon, took over her life. She reads newspaper articles about his country, chooses clothes that will please him, buys "fruit and various delicacies" for their evenings together. And, like others similarly in thrall, she admits to having "no future other than the telephone call fixing our next appointment." Meanwhile, she continues to list the signs of passion as if that will help her grasp its reality. As the summer nears, she reluctantly takes a holiday in Florence, where in museums she sees only statues of naked men and works representing love. The affair ends when her lover is recalled to his own country, and the narrator details her responses—including avoidance of TV or magazines for "they all show the same thing: a woman waiting for a man." Finally, an unexpected visit gives passion its true meaning—which "is preciselyto be meaningless," to teach us the luxury of "being able to live out a passion for a man or a woman." A stunning story, despite its detachment and the careful exclusions of any excess, that pulsates with the very passion Ernaux so truthfully describes. Small, but abundantly wise.

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Seven Stories Press
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Meet the Author

Born in 1940, ANNIE ERNAUX grew up in Normandy, studied at Rouen University, and began teaching high school. From 1977 to 2000, she was a professor at the Centre National d’Enseignement par Correspondance. Her books, in particular A Man’s Place and A Woman’s Story, have become contemporary classics in France. She won the prestigious Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place when it was first published in French in 1984. The English edition was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The English edition of A Woman’s Story was a New York Times Notable Book.

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Simple Passion 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ernaux perfectly captures what it feels like to love and lust for someone to the distraction of everything and everyone else. She eloquently and truthfully describes the emotional heaven and hell that one experiences when in the complete thrall of another.