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the Complete Review
the complete review - journal

Getting Lost

Annie Ernaux

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To purchase Getting Lost

Title: Getting Lost
Author: Annie Ernaux
Genre: Journal
Written: (2001) (Eng. 2022)
Length: 294 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Getting Lost - US
Getting Lost - UK
Getting Lost - Canada
Se perdre - Canada
Se perdre - France
Sich verlieren - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • French title: Se perdre
  • First published in 2001, but the bulk of the book consists of journal entries from 1988 to 1990
  • Translated by Alison L. Strayer

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Our Assessment:

B : solid though peculiar work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 14/7/2001 .
L'Express . 8/2/2001 Martine de Rabaudy
The Guardian A 12/9/2022 Ankita Chakraborty
L'Humanité . 15/2/2001 Jean-Claude Lebrun
The NY Times . 20/9/2022 Dwight Garner
Sunday Times . 2/10/2022 Claire Lowdon
TLS B 27/4/2001 Lucy Dallas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ms Ernaux (...) evokes the familiar rituals of passion, the sweet torments of waiting and what she describes as the violence of loss. (...) Where the novella gave a sense of tidy resolution and even elation, the journal throws us into the complexity of the present and the uncertainty of the future." - The Economist

  • "Avec Se perdre, Annie Ernaux joue son va-tout. Le lit, lieu de son plaisir, représente ce que la table de jeu est au joueur, la bouteille à l'alcoolique, la seringue au toxicomane. L'objet de tous les dangers. Le but n'est pas, comme elle semble le croire et tente de le faire croire, la nécessité de la passion; celle-ci n'est en réalité qu'un prétexte, pour elle, de risquer sa peau." - Martine de Rabaudy, L'Express

  • "The quality that distinguishes Ernaux’s writing on sex from others in her milieu is the total absence of shame. Desire in her brings forth more desire, the impulse of death, happiness, and even past trauma, like her abortion, but never humiliation. Reading her is to thoroughly purge yourself of the notion that shame could be a possible outcome of wanting sex. (...) Simple Passion was a cleverly crafted memoir; Getting Lost is a large chunk of her life and the more interesting version of the affair. Ernaux intends it to be a love story from the beginning, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a study of a woman at her peak desire. In the future. I suspect, the book will become a kind of totem for lovers: a manual to help them find their centre when, like Ernaux, they are lost in love." - Ankita Chakraborty, The Guardian

  • "L'écriture ou la vie: l'alternative était clairement posée." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

  • "The almost primitive directness of her voice is bracing. It’s as if she’s carving each sentence onto the surface of a table with a knife. She is, in her writing, definitely not the sort of girl whose bicycle has a basket. (...) Getting Lost is a feverish book. It’s about being impaled by desire, and about the things human beings want, as opposed to the things for which they settle. Is it a major book? Probably not. But it’s one of those books about loneliness that, on every page, makes you feel less alone." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "As well as external details, she also records her thoughts, feelings and her lengthy dreams, which end up trying the patience of the reader; the temptation to skip is very strong. (...) Se perdre is powerful, yet Passion simple does the same thing, only better; the way it mixes fact and fiction makes it more open-ended as a story, giving the reader more possibilities, and the craft in the writing combines with this to make it a more satisfying work of art." - Lucy Dallas, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: this review was first posted in 2002, and is based on the French original; I have not seen the English translation, which (finally) appeared in 2022.]

       In 1992 Annie Ernaux published a short novel about an affair she had with an unnamed Eastern European, Simple Passion (see our review). Se perdre -- now published in English as Getting Lost -- revisits that affair, as Ernaux presents her journals from the time, describing the events that she would then fictionalize in Simple Passion.
       Se perdre is uncharacteristically long for an Ernaux-book, fuller if not necessarily richer. Where her novels (or novellas or memoirs or whatever one wants to call them) tend towards the almost stark and simple, Se perdre is expansive -- the events drawn-out, lingering, inescapable, the frequent repetitions making it realistic in a different way.
       Ernaux's passion for the married Soviet diplomat S. (and the concomitant occasional frustration and ambivalence) is the overwhelming presence in the book. It is a book about an affair, heavy on all the emotions and the helplessness that come with such an entanglement. Ernaux notes in her brief introduction: "Le monde extérieur est presque totalement absent de ces pages." ("The outside world is almost completely absent from these pages.") It is a very personal document.
       S. doesn't sound like the ideal soulmate for Ernaux. A Soviet diplomat, Ernaux describes him as relatively unexceptional. The events take place before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and S. is, more or less, your standard apparatchik. He is "peu intellectuel" ("somewhat intellectual"), but clearly conversation is not what this affair is about. It is about passion, pure and simple. Or rather, of course: not so pure and certainly not simple. But certainly intense: "Je pleur de désir, de cette faim absolue que j'ai de lui." ("I weep with desire, with this absolute hunger I have for him.") Oh dear.
       S. is married, which doesn't trouble Ernaux too much. Passion gets the better of her, and passion is what it is all about. She loses herself in this physical relationship, fulfilling an apparently desperate need.
       "Je ne fais pas l'amour comme un écrivain" ("I don't make love like a writer") she states emphatically: not so much (one hopes) because she actually believes authors perform the sexual act any differently than anyone else, but because she wants to separate love-making from that other central part of her life, writing. She emphasizes the commitment she puts into it: "Je fais l'amour comme si c'était toujours (...) la dernière fois" ("I make love as though each time were (...) the last time").
       The other person doesn't even matter that much. Yes, her passion is focussed completely on S., but he is merely a convenient figure -- ideal, in fact, because he is able only to give a bit of himself (and his time), unexceptional in almost every regard. He can be the object of her obsession without otherwise intruding too much into her life.
       She may not make love like a writer, but she has an affair like one, largely focussed on imagination -- missing S., and longing for him, in his absence, playing out scenarios in her head, analyzing and dissecting. She can lose herself in the physical act, but there is little beyond that between them -- giving her lots of time to mull over this. She admits as much herself: "J'ai trops de temps pour penser à la passion, c'est mon drame." ("I have too much time to think about this passion, it is my drama.")
       She has no illusions that this some great romantic affair. Ernaux knows that, for S., she is merely "une parenthèse érotique dans sa vie" ("an erotic parenthesis in his life"). It is not a particularly pleasant affair, as messy as such things often can be. There is the "cascade de déceptions" ("cascade of deceptions"). And all of it is documented by writer-Ernaux in this journal: she can't but do otherwise.
       "Mes livres ont toujours été la forme la plus vraie de ma personalité, à mon insu" ("My books have always been the truest form of my personality, without my knowing it"). The material here would be molded into book form -- Simple Passion -- soon enough, and it is of course interesting to compare the two works, to see what Ernaux has made of the actual events in the compressed novella.
       Writing was always significant to Ernaux. This affair mirrors previous romantic entanglements: she refers to them (and the corresponding literal takes on them, the resulting books). She finds herself still making the same mistakes, still having the same feelings, still -- it seems -- dealing with things the same way.
       The real world does not intrude too much into Se perdre, but it can't be held completely at bay. The fall of the Berlin Wall does find mention, and events obviously affect the relationship, as S. returns to a crumbling Soviet Union. Ernaux recounts other events too: trips abroad (including to Italy and East Europe), meetings, films. But she isn't that comfortable with reality. Much of the last section of the book, after S. has faded from view, is given over to dreams: the book almost becomes a dream-diary.
       Se perdre resembles nothing so much as a a lovelorn teen's Angst-ridden diary. Obsessive, tear-stained, intimate, it is dominated by emotion -- yet much of it is cooly and succinctly observed. It is an interesting yet unsettling read.

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Se perdre: Reviews: Annie Ernaux: Other books by Annie Ernaux under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Annie Ernaux was born in Normandy in 1940. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2022.

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© 2002-2023 the complete review

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