In Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux, France’s most celebrated memoirist and newly minted Nobel Laureate, distils her two year long, passionate affair with a married man into a punchy 48 pages. Those familiar with Ernaux’s writing will know she’s the master of dissecting emotions, condensing them into something almost clinical which has the unexpected power to make you cry. I challenge anyone not to recognise some part of themselves in this book. An unashamedly honest portrayal of desire.
‘From September last year, I did nothing else but wait for a man’ begins Simple Passion. The book was written a few months after Ernaux’s intense relationship ended and although the wounds are still raw, Ernaux analyses the affair from a distance. The contrast between her detached language and her deeply felt passion (bordering on the comical, from the perspective of an outsider), magnifies the impact of the writing. As anyone who’s been in passionately in love will recognise, not everything we do in the throes of love makes us proud in hindsight. Ernaux is unapologetic about it, though. It’s simply a part of the human experience, she argues.
This book made me think of Lena Andersson’s fabulous Wilful Disregard. A fictional version of exactly the kind of passion that Ernaux so succinctly portrays here and a perfect companion book to Simple Passion.
Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux is translated by Tanya Leslie and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, 48 pages.