Saturday, 26 November 2022

Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux Review

French writer Annie Ernaux had a brief affair with an Eastern European man (named only “A.”) in the ‘80s when she was middle-aged, and describes the lifespan of the relationship in Simple Passion, a short book from the early ‘90s.

This isn’t the kind of story that normally interests me - the only thing that made me check it out was because Ernaux is this year’s Nobel Laureate for Literature (although it’s questionable whether the prestige of this prize has forever been tarnished given that it turns out to be an award judged by rich scumbags who serially assault women). And, having read it now, Ernaux failed to change my opinion on affair stories!

First of all, Ernaux calling this a “book” is rather generous on her part - it’s 34 pages long (35 with footnotes), so it’s a short story. And while the prose is fine and she does take you into her mind (it’s the loosest definition of “fiction” - this is basically nonfiction) when she was in the throes of the affair. It’s convincing and slightly interesting and I get the title - there’s nothing “simple” when it comes to human emotion.

But for all that, she doesn’t really show you why she was so besotted with this man. You don’t feel any passion or love - that entire aspect of the affair is completely absent. She says this book is about how “his existence has affected my life” but it’s really only a partial overview.

Instead you get an almost anthropological series of descriptions of her behaviour when she was obsessed with this guy. Waiting for him to return to her for his next visit, the things she would do to prepare for their next rendez-vous, etc. until one day it’s over and that’s that. It’s just not very interesting to read and, because the material is so slight, it felt long even at 34 pages.

Maybe her other books are amazing and those are what got her the Nobel, but, going by Simple Passion alone, I didn’t see anything special here to see why she got the award. Simple Passion is simply tedious.

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