Book Review: Getting Lost by Annie Ernaux (2022 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature)

By Rachel Cronin

4 stars

French literary powerhouse and 2022 Nobel Prize winner for literature Annie Ernaux is arguably a trailblazer for autobiographical writing. From her breakout novel Cleaned Out (1974) to her shocking recollection of her illegal abortion in Happening (2001), it’s impossible to doubt that this literary genius deserved her prize for the leaps and bounds she made (intentionally or not) for starting discussions on female sexuality, sensuality and girlhood. The 2022 addition to her 16 novel anthology recounts an all-encompassing affair with a Russian diplomat via a series of journal entries from the 1980s. Those familiar with Ernaux’s writing will recall this raunchy yet emotionally stretched relationship from one of her most famous pieces, Simple Passion (1991).

While Simple Passion was a short and steamy retelling of Ernaux’s internal battle against her all-consuming passion for a married, younger man, Getting Lost presents itself almost as a ‘director’s cut’ of the relationship. Lengthier than many of Ernaux’ s other works, Getting Lost speaks to the reader in Annie Ernaux’s simplified, straightforward and stripped-back voice. Arguably her strongest literary technique is the writer’s complete and utter honesty in her personal reflection of an affair that made her question the definition of ‘passion’. Her direct extracts from private journals make for a naked depiction of a divorced writer completely enthralled with the thrill of an affair.

As in many of the novelist’s works, Getting Lost leaves a reader aching on the insides, with the incredible relatability revealed by her writing. Of course, few of Ernaux’s readers are celebrated French writers in the midst of an affair with sexy Russian diplomats, but the devasting internal monologue she presents is a punch in the stomach to anyone who’s ever found themself completely consumed by a crush.

Although undoubtedly worth the read for fans of the French writer, Getting Lost shouldn’t be considered our écrivaine’s best work. While recounting the same time period as Simple Passion (with a lot more pages), the new novel didn’t reveal an exciting abundance of new details or pensive revelations. A collection of journal entries (some of which can become slightly repetitive), this elongated retelling of a previously documented story failed to delve deeper. However, for her unwavering talent, insane honesty and immediately recognisable writing style, there is no one more deserving of the Nobel Prize for literature than Annie Ernaux.