Book Review: Getting Lost by Annie Ernaux

Culture Editor Rachel Cronin reviews our favourite French écrivaine‘s latest triumph that bagged her 2022’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

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. Since the start of her career she’s made leaps and bounds 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).

Simple Passion was a short and steamy retelling of Ernaux’s internal battle against her all-consuming passion for a married, younger man. Contrarily, 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 the writer’s signature simplified, straightforward and stripped-back voice. 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. It’s both a blessing and a curse to consume the transparent rawness revealed by her writing. Of course, few (if any) 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 those who have ever found themselves 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 supplementary details or pensive revelations. Its simple journal entry format can become repetitive, making this elongated retelling of a previously documented story fail 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.