Book Review: Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux
March 29, 2023 at 12:12 pm, No comments
Annie Ernaux’s Not so Simple Passion
By Annie Ernaux
Translated by Tanya Leslie
Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2021
In the first page of Simple Passion, Annie Ernaux states: “writing should aim […] to replicate the feeling of witnessing sexual intercourse, that feeling of anxiety and stupefaction, a suspension of moral judgement." After finishing her book and taking a couple of minutes to catch my breath, I realized that she accomplished to generate that feeling in me with apparent effortlessness and in only 48 pages with this genre-defiant text that blurs the boundaries between fiction and real life. Translated into English by Tanya Leslie, Ernaux’s prose on the narrator’s waiting and desire during her two-year affair with a married man is simple in the sense that it is easy to follow, but not to digest.
The narration is so intimate because of the content and the unpretentious language that it feels like listening to a friend talk for hours about her relationship, with self-reflective moments and all. These moments go beyond the anecdotic, as they not only are introspective but metatextual thanks to her characteristic first-person writing: “During all this time, I felt I was living out my passion in the manner of a novel, but now I am not sure in which style I am writing about it[...].” This two-sided consciousness enhances the sense of intimacy, as it makes it easier to dialogue with the text and feel like we are connecting with the writer, who makes her presence evident.
It is also thanks to this emphasized subjectivity that the text elicits empathy, along with the questions it raises on complex human concerns such as time, memory, and the relationship between life and writing, topics that Ernaux has always been interested in exploring through her writing as she mentioned in her Nobel Prize Lecture. Towards the end of Simple Passion, the narrator/author wonders if she writes to see if others have felt the same way. I think, “yes, I have,” and it is in that close emotional depiction that Ernaux manages to generate anxiety and stupefaction while demonstrating that there are no trivial topics or personal experiences to write on.
by Mariana Morales