Review: Simple Passion by Annie Ernaux (Translated by Tanya Leslie)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Title: Simple Passion
Author: Annie Ernaux
Translator: Tanya Leslie
Price: £8.99
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
Publication Date: 10/03/2021x

Hello everyone! Today I wanted to share with you all my review of ‘Simple Passion’ written by Annie Ernaux and translated by Tanya Leslie. I have been kindly gifted a copy of the book by Clare at Fitzcarraldo Editions in return for an honest review; a massive thank you for this! This is the first piece of Ernaux’s work that I’ve had the pleasure to read and it certainly won’t be the last!


Annie Ernaux documents the desires and indignities of a human heart ensnared in an all-consuming passion. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, an unnamed narrator attempts to plot the emotional and physical course of her two-year relationship with a married man where every word, every event, and person either provides a connection with her beloved or is subject to her cold indifference. The narrator seeks the truth behind an existence lived entirely for someone else.

‘Simple Passion’ is an essay which recounts a female narrator’s thoughts and feelings over the course of a two-year affair. Ernaux has captured perfectly how a woman might feel and behave when she is possessed by love. The title of the book refers to passion being simple however the narrator's accounts of her affair prove that it’s certainly much more complicated than that.

I thought the essay would focus more on the physical passion between the unnamed woman and her lover but Ernaux delved into much more than that. She managed to paint a clear picture of how someone might be mentally affected by their desire and how it can dominate their life. Although I couldn’t relate to the affair, I definitely related to the way the narrator described planning your life around events, or a person, which can make you feel like your at a standstill. It’s certainly easy to get wrapped up and become obsessed with something intense that can cause you to lose your ambition and independence. Although this is not a healthy way to live, Ernaux managed to showcase the experience in an honest way.

"It occurred to me that writing should aim to do the same, to replicate the feeling of witnessing sexual intercourse, that feeling of anxiety and stupefaction, a suspension of moral judgment."

In most books you may come across, more often than not if a woman is having an affair with a married man, what is portrayed in the story is the woman’s guilt. What makes ‘Simple Passion’ unique is that the narrator is shameless and doesn’t feel guilty but instead focuses on the deepness and rawness of her passion. Many of you will definitely think that this is not morally right but the book is not trying to please anyone, instead, it’s clear that Ernaux is trying to convey the complicated and not easily comprehensible part of the affair.

Rating: 4 stars

Overall, at only 48 pages, ‘Simple Passion’s is definitely a quick read, however it is also intimate and thoughtful. Ernaux’s writing is beautiful and even if you may not entirely emphasise with the narrator of the story, you are bound to put yourself in her situation and think about how you would feel and behave. If you haven't ready any of Ernaux's writing before then I have to say that you are definitely missing out!

It wouldn't be right if I didn't also mention the translator of the book, Tanya Leslie. It's not an easy task to translate a book and make it compelling but Leslie definitely did a fantastic job!

‘Simple Passion’ can be purchased in physical format and as an ebook on the Fitzcarraldo Editions website.

About the author


Annie Ernaux grew up in Normandy, studied at Rouen University, and later taught at secondary school. From 1997 to 2000, she was a professor at the Centre National d'Enseignement par Correspondence. Her books, in particular 'A Man's Place' and 'A Woman's Story', have become contemporary classics in France. 'The Years' won the Prix Renaudot in France in 2008, the Premio Strega in Italy in 2016, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019. In 2017, Annie Ernaux was awarded the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her life's work.

About the translator


Tanya Leslie was the first translator of Annie Ernaux into English and translated a number of her works, including 'A Woman's Story (1991), 'A Man's Place' (1992), 'Simple Passion' (1993), 'Shame' (1998), 'I Remain in Darkness' (1999) and 'Happening' (2001).

I hope you enjoyed this review. Let me know in the comments below if you've read any of Annie Ernaux's work. If not, then I'd love to know what you think of honest and intimate books like 'Simple Passion'!

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