Twice of late I'd read reviews which alluded to Annie Ernaux's Simple Passion, a novella chronicling the affair between a nameless French woman and an equally anonymous Eastern European man. The book is a short one and is meant to be enjoyed in a single sitting.
At its core, Simple Passion is a book about love, and how it is experienced: both while that love is active, and later, when it has passed. In this way, Simple Passion is a novella about time and about how the memories of love -- like historical events themselves -- face an inevitable recession. Ernaux's novella traces that journey: from intensity and obsession to distance and estrangement.
Most of this, I think, works, and the book holds together nicely. But there is one area, I'd offer, where Ernaux's novella falls short -- and that's in its unexpected politesse. Ernaux references the affair and its apparent passion on several occasions, but that ardor is not described: it is presented only as longing.
Perhaps there's a tendency to suppose that a more direct treatment of sex and sexuality would somehow cheapen the book. But I'd disagree: clothing can pile up on the floor -- as it does repeatedly in Simple Passion -- but the details of how they get there matter, and without that understanding, the affair is shrouded in a frustrating sense of mystery.
All of that said, Ernaux makes an effective case toward the end of the novella for the centrality of love, and for its importance as a human experience: luxury, she writes, is about more than financial or intellectual pursuits; it is also about being able to "live out" a passion. I interpreted this in two ways: first, to experience love and intimacy; and second, to see that love through to its end -- even if that ending is in itself a thing tinged with sorrow and regret.
Passion, it seems, is never a simple thing.