Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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The diary of one of France’s most important, award-winning writers during the year she had a passionate and secret love affair with a Russian diplomat.
 

Getting Lost is the diary Annie Ernaux kept during the year and a half she had a secret love affair with a younger, married man, a Russian diplomat. Her novel, Simple Passion, was based on this affair, but here her writing is immediate, unfiltered. In these diaries it is 1989 and Annie is divorced with two grown sons, living outside of Paris and nearing fifty. Her lover escapes the city to see her there and Ernaux seems to survive only in expectation of these encounters, saying “his desire for me is the only thing I can be sure of.” She cannot write, she trudges distractedly through her various other commitments in the world, she awaits his next call; she lives only to feel desire and for the next rendezvous. When he is gone and the desire has faded, she feels that she is a step closer to death.
 
Lauded for her spare prose, Ernaux here removes all artifice, her writing pared down to its most naked and vulnerable. Getting Lost is as strong a book as any that she has written, a haunting, desperate view of strong and successful woman who seduces a man only to lose herself in love and desire.


Click here to read an excerpt in The Paris Review

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“The almost primitive directness of her voice is bracing. It’s as if she’s carving each sentence onto the surface of a table with a knife. She is, in her writing, definitely not the sort of girl whose bicycle has a basket. ... “Getting Lost” is a feverish book. It’s about being impaled by desire, and about the things human beings want, as opposed to the things for which they settle. ... It’s one of those books about loneliness that, on every page, makes you feel less alone.

“Like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, Ernaux’s affair should be counted as one of the great liaisons of literature. . . All her books have the quality of saving frail human details from oblivion. Together they tell, in fragments, the story of a woman in the 20th century who has lived fully, sought out pain and happiness equally and then committed her findings truthfully on paper. Her life is our inheritance.”

“To read [the diary entries] is to encounter something like a pentimento, the revelation of writing underneath other writing—a quality that already suffuses so much of her work. We can, of course, marvel at what Ernaux was able to make of these entries in Simple Passion. But they offer their own distinct and potent pleasures, the rare, delightful, occasionally shocking intimacies of reading someone else’s private thoughts.”

In this entrancing work, French writer Ernaux (The Years) relives the passionate yet devastating memories of a whirlwind affair through her own diary entries. From November 1989 to April 1990, when she was a writer and teacher living in Paris, Ernaux became besotted with a married Russian diplomat at the Soviet embassy. Set against the political, social, and literary events that defined the parameters of their relationship, Ernaux’s narrative traces her secret love affair with “Mr. S,” a man 13 years her junior, as she recalls falling under S’s narcissistic hold (“a lovely hell”) and the “state of nameless terror” she endures between his phone calls and brief visits. Their affair revives old and painful memories that threaten her self-worth: an abortion in 1964, a failed marriage, and recurring dreams of her mother’s death. Ernaux’s writing is astonishingly candid as she illustrates the ways loss, heartache, and love intersect with her craft as a writer: “I am consumed with desire.... I want perfection in love, as I believe I attained a kind of perfection in writing with A Woman’s Story. That can only happen through giving, while throwing all caution to the wind. I’m already well on my way.” Fans will relish every scintillating detail.

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The author of some twenty works of fiction and memoir, ANNIE ERNAUX is considered by many to be France’s most important literary voice. She won the Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place and the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her body of work. More recently she received the International Strega Prize, the Prix Formentor, the French-American Translation Prize, and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation for The Years, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. Her other works include Exteriors, A Girl's Story, A Woman's Story, The Possession, Simple Passion, HappeningI Remain in DarknessShameA Frozen Woman, and A Man's Place

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Alison L. Strayer is a Canadian writer and translator. She won the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, and her work has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Literature and for Translation, the Grand Prix du livre de Montreal, the Prix littéraire France-Québec, and the Man Booker International Prize. She lives in Paris.

Other books by Annie Ernaux