Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index


to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Simple Passion

Annie Ernaux

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Simple Passion

Title: Simple Passion
Author: Annie Ernaux
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 1993)
Length: 64 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Simple Passion - US
Simple Passion - UK
Simple Passion - Canada
Passion simple - Canada
Passion simple - France
  • Translated by Tanya Leslie
  • The French title is Passion simple, for which "Simple Passion" does not seem to be an adequate translation. But it's simple.
  • US title Simple Passion
  • Original UK title Passion Perfect (now also published as Simple Passion)
  • In 2001 Ernaux released Se perdre, the journal she kept of the affair that this novel is based on.

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

A- : a slight but intense study of passion

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 28/5/2021 Lola Seaton
The New Yorker . 27/12/1993 Daphne Merkin
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 24/10/1993 Caryn James
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A+ Spring/1994 James DeRossitt

  Review Consensus:

  Enthusiastic, especially about Ernaux's approach to the subject.

  From the Reviews:
  • "What mesmerises here, as elsewhere in Ernaux's oeuvre, is the interplay between the solipsistic intensity of the material and its documentary, disinterested, almost egoless presentation." - Lola Seaton, New Statesman

  • "Ernaux's stunning novel shows us that a great passion can't always last forever. Sometimes it is only a brief fulfillment." - James DeRossitt, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Simple Passion (...) is part semiotic treatise and part Harlequin romance, and all the better for the combination of high and low. One of the hottest books in France last year, it embraces the crazed adolescent behavior that can crop up at any age, yet is intelligent enough to wrap those details in a taut literary shape and defiantly unemotional language." - Caryn James, The New York Times Book Review

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Annie Ernaux's small autobiographical fiction focuses intensively and almost exclusively on the passion her first-person narrator had for a man with whom she had an affair. The man himself is almost incidental to the story: a foreigner (an Eastern European businessman) working in Paris for a time, married, she refers to him simply as A. He is the object of her passion, but it is the passion itself that interests her and that drives the book.
       Ernaux starts off ambitiously. Watching an X-rated film on cable television she is both shocked and fascinated -- fascinated especially by how something that was long so taboo "has become as easy to watch as a handshake." This, then, is what she also aspires to in her writing:

It occurred to me that writing should also aim for that -- the impression conveyed by sexual intercourse, a feeling of anxiety and stupefaction, a suspension of moral judgement.
       An interesting notion, though not necessarily something one would want to read if lesser hands were behind it. But, as usual, Ernaux manages to fashion a fascinating, if sometimes bizarre book from this starting point.
       The passion for A is deep and intense, as the narrator admits to an obsession that often sounds like an overwhelming teenage crush (though the narrator is decidedly no longer teenaged). Everything she does revolves around her furtive affair with A. Because he is married she can only rarely see him, and neither write nor call him. She is dependent on him, and imagines signs and foreshadowings everywhere she turns, boding either well or ill for them. Her life, for these two years, revolves around little else but her passion, everything else being subsumed by it.
       The passion covers the full spectrum, from adoration and worship to jealousy and fear. Ernaux handles the subject matter well, because she writes so well. It is hard to imagine many other authors who could manage such a book without sounding simply silly or bathetic.
       The ending rounds out the book nicely, though it is perhaps too easy an out: A leaves France, and then returns, and what she then feels for him is no longer the same passion. The narrator acknowledges that her passion was "meaningless", but that makes it no less real.
       Ernaux explains that what she has done in this book is simply to "translate into words (...) the way in which his existence has affected my life." It is an interesting exercise, worth reading for Ernaux's precise and unabashed translation. She is an excellent stylist, able to convey a great deal in her sparse and often apparently uneventful prose. A short book, and a quick read as well, Simple Passion is certainly recommended.

- Return to top of the page -


Simple Passion: Reviews: Annie Ernaux: Other books by Annie Ernaux under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 1999-2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links