Getting Lost

Image of Getting Lost
Release Date: 
October 4, 2022
Seven Stories Press
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"Skip this book and read one of her more polished works instead."

Annie Ernaux won the 2022 Nobel Prize for literature, but you won't see evidence of her brilliant writing in Getting Lost. Rather than a carefully structured novel or memoir based on personal experience, the book is a diary of two and a half years, from the end of 1988 to 1990, focused mostly on an affair with younger married man, a Russian working at the Soviet embassy in Paris. Yes, it's raw and unfiltered, but also unpolished. The lack of thoughtful revision makes for a dearth of narrative drive, zero character development, and absolutely no impetus to keep the reader turning pages.

The love affair is given the same emotional weight in her life as her writing: "I make love with the same desire for perfection that I feel in relation to writing."

However, the reader doesn't get a sense of perfection at all, just a repetitive list of encounters. Sex may be interesting to the person engaged in it, but reading about it gets stale pretty quickly. As Ernaux herself says, "To state the obvious: objectively, when you go to bed with someone, the things you do are the same, whether or not you're in love." The reader gets a lot of that sameness, divorced from any of the excitement Ernaux herself may have felt.

The lover, referred to as S., never comes to life as a character in these journal pages. All we get is Ernaux's constant waiting, "passionate" meetings, then waiting again: "Again I long to see him. And yet what it all comes down to is this: he fucks, he drinks vodka, he talks about Stalin."

That sums up the book pretty well. There's sex, minimal talk about politics, plus Ernaux's travel to conferences and cultural events, none of which is presented in detail as vivid scenes. Rather there are lists, such as this one about a trip to Florence:

"This morning, revisited the Uffizi, Spring by Botticelli. The Church of San Lorenzo, pointless. Badia Abbey, where Dante met Beatrice, so they say. The Bargello museum: a superb building, the inner courtyard greatly satisfying to both body and mind."

That's about as much description as you'll get, the most insight into anything that appears in the diary entries. The book promises to show Ernaux at her most "naked and vulnerable." Instead it shows her at her least interesting and most superficial. Memoir is especially difficult writing since the author must turn raw life events into a coherent narrative with compelling characters, including themselves. These diary pages could serve as the basis for a memoir, but by themselves have none of the structure to make the reader care about the contents. If anything, the book acts as an example of how not to write a memoir. Anyone curious about Ernaux as a writer should skip this book and read one of her more polished works instead.