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Simple Passion [Paperback]

Annie Ernaux
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 5 2003
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.

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From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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"
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
This small volume retraces the painful loss of self a woman experiences while obsessing about the occasional attention she receives from a younger, married man from a "foreign" country. The unidentified woman, and the man she refers to as A, only meet for the intermittent adult romp that, in my view of her revelation, only brings her pain. Her entire existence for a two-year period is motivated by the time she is able to be with him ( which is rare ) and the opportunity she has to fantasize about him. The writer culminates the story by saying that she feels luxury is "being able to live out a passion for a man or a woman. In this case, however, as it seems in any obsessive relationship, there is only an abundance of pain and precious, lost time. Some people are real victims of the world and their suffering is not chosen. The pain in this book is particularly melancholy because it didn't have to be. I give this book 5 stars because it is a beautifully written account of something I never want to experience. We only have so much time on this earth, and suffering with obsession is not the kind of passion I would ever want to know. I understand it, I feel sympathy, I just don't want it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you've ever waited for a phone to ring..... April 26 2006
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
You wait for the phone to ring. That's your life, waiting. You never know when he'll call, so you leave your home as little as possible. Hair dryers and vacuum cleaners make noise that could drown out a ringing phone; you use them sparingly. And then, without warning, there's the voice you crave --- he can be free for a few hours without his wife getting curious.

In a panic, you bathe. Frantically clean your home. File your nails so there's no chance you'll leave a mark on him. Lay out drinks, ice, his favorite snack. And then the door opens and your life begins. You barely speak, this isn't that kind of relationship. Later, he looks at his watch. You sigh. He showers, dresses. A final touch, and he's gone. And your life once again turns to waiting.

That's a woman's story. (It's the rare man whose life revolves around an unavailable woman who has trouble finding a moment to call and has an even harder time arranging a rendezvous.) Indeed, it's Annie Ernaux's story --- a lightly fictionalized account of a two-year affair she had with a married Eastern European diplomat. The whole story takes just 64 pages. And nothing really happens; it's mostly waiting. But the waiting is so acutely observed that in France --- Ernaux lives in a suburb of Paris --- 'Simple Passion' was the #1 bestseller for 8 months, with more than 400,000 copies sold.

The appeal of the book is, if you will, how manly it is. How matter-of-fact. Writing, Ernaux tells us at the start of the novel, should be like sex. That is, there should be "a feeling of anxiety and stupefaction. a suspension of moral judgment." So you won't get any speculation about his feelings. Or if he'll leave his wife. No, this affair is about sex. It's about "lying in bed with that man in the middle of the afternoon."

The man, like the woman, is nameless. He's 38. He likes "Yves Saint-Laurent suits, Cerruti ties and powerful cars." He watches bad TV. He drinks. But these preferences hardly matter. For the narrator knows at the beginning of the affair something that most woman only learn at the end: "The man we love is a complete stranger." As is, perhaps, the woman. Something happens at the end of the book --- nothing dramatic, like a murder or even a confrontation, but I don't want to spoil the experience for you --- and we're forced to consider her anew.

Who is Annie Ernaux? You've probably never heard of her, but she's one of the biggest names in French fiction. Born in 1940, she grew up in a small town. She became a literature teacher in Paris. And, from her first book to her most recent, she had her style down pat: short, autobiographical books, so honestly told you feel she's scraping off skin with every word. She never presents herself as a victim or a hero; she just is. Her books win prizes. And, though they're chilly, they sell. Her humanity --- that honest expression of desire and weakness --- only looks simple. It's a bitch to write.

Ernaux says that passion is the luxury of adults. I think I understand what she means: It's time out of time, a shared secret, a deep and wordless acknowledgment of need and a gloriously hot way of satisfying that need. I think that's why women, in particular, gravitate to Ernaux's short, disturbing books --- they know they're real. How? Because, at one point or another, they've been that woman looking at her phone, praying for it to ring.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Painfully Honest Account of Obsession March 4 2000
By "thestranger" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I went into a local bookstore yesterday, and was drawn into the words of Ernaux. Her account of the emotional upheaval, loss of self and ultimate recovery was like reading the pages of someone's diary - nothing was held back. Ernaux explores how in a relationship one person often loses their very self in an attempt to be closer to the object of their desire. This account was not of a relationship so much as an obsession. The man who motivated these feelings was ultimately a stranger, unaware or indifferent to the power he held. It is Ernaux's ability to understand the small things, the details involved in the waiting for the next encounter with the unavailable lover, that makes her portrayal so real. In the end, this tale is not merely of an unjustified love or longing, but of a woman's search to find herself, the need to reconcile intellectual pursuits and passion while remaining authentic to her own being. This book may make you realize how you ascribe superhuman qualities to the object of your lust while degrading yourself. The need for balance and reciprocation stayed with me after my encounter with this often erotic and always intimate glipse into the soul of one consumed by passion.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The universal is in the details Aug. 12 2000
By M. J. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Simple Passion is the account of a love affair with a married man told in the direct prose I have come to expect of Ernaux. She notes that her life was one of waiting, that everything other than their meetings became secondary. Her honesty forces her to admit that the affair was one of passion not of love. After he returned to his native country, she struggles to rebuild a life that is built on relationships with others, one built on life in general not passion. Ernaux is a master at making the direct details of her experience resonate with the experience of humanity as a whole. I recommend this book (or any of her books).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple Passion charts emotional obsession Aug. 6 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Simple Passion is one of the best books I have read in a long time that explores the inner emotional life of a woman. This books addresses the feeling of waiting for a lover, the role that women find themselves in in waiting for a man. A very emotionally engaging work, one that I highly recommend
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars passion is the greatest high Feb. 25 2003
By meg bortnem - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
My favorite book. It honestly explores the effects of passion, and does so with total economy.
It is both dramatic and zenlike at the same time.
Most writers believe in the "show don't tell" aproach, but only the best writers, most of them being in my opinion, French, have a way of telling that exceeds the showing. Ernaux, like Gide and Duras, offers a very processed view of a relationship which becomes an intellectual experience --despite it revolving around a physical love affair. Ernaux transportes her readers, not necessarily into the moments, but into the DRAMA of them --getting us inside this woman's mind and body and feeling the pain and exstacy of the many stages of obsession.
While reading this book, I often had to pause and just sigh. And when I completed this slim novel, just a couple hours later (I really took my time), I began it again.
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