One could make out the figure of a woman in a corset and stockings, and a man. The story was incomprehensible; it was impossible to predict any of their actions or movements. The man walked up to the woman. I was drawn to statues of naked men. Even if this could be explained by the oppressed condition of women, it seemed to me that something had been irretrievably lost.

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Sometimes it is only a brief fulfillment. 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. 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. 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. 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 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.


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