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A Simple Passion


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About the Author

Annie Ernaux was born in 1940 in Normandy, France. She is the recipient of numerous prizes including the Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place, which was also a finalist for the French-American Translation Prize. A Woman's Story was a Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize finalist. A Man's Place and A Woman's Story were both New York Times Notable Books. Her memoir Shame was named one of the best books of 1998 by Publishers Weekly. Her books are taught in schools throughout France as contemporary classics. Tanya Leslie also translated Ernaux's A Man's Place, A Woman's Story, Exteriors, Shame, "I Remain in Darkness," and Happening.


$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''

"The triumph of Ms. Ernaux's approach ... is to cherish commonplace emotions while elevating the banal expression of them ... A monument to passions that defy simple explanations." -The New York Times Book Review

"A work of lyrical precision and diamond-hard clarity." -The New Yorker

"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." -Kirkus Reviews

"All this-the suffering and anxiety of waiting, the brief soulagement of lovemaking, the lethargy and fatigue that follow, the renewal of desire, the little indignities and abjections of both obsession and abandonment-Ernaux tells with calm, almost tranquillized matter-of-factness [that] feels like determination, truth to self, clarity of purpose." -The Washington Post

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.)

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