Annie Ernaux

Annie ernaux just won the Nobel Prize for Literature this Thursday, October 6. It is the occasion for us to make you discover this French author entered the History. The French writer has published some twenty autobiographical novels.

Who is she ?

Annie Ernaux, born Duchesne on September 1ᵉʳ, 1940, in Lillebonne, Normandy, into a modest family that was first a worker and then ran a small business and café in the countryside. Brilliant at school, she left to study at the University of Rouen, then in Bordeaux.  She successively became a certified teacher, then an associate professor of modern literature in 1971. She meets the success in 1974 with Les armoires vides, her first autobiographical story. In 1984, she won the Renaudot Prize for another of her autobiographical works, La Place. In 2008, she received the Prix de la langue française for the whole of her work. In April 2016, she re-published an autobiographical story, Mémoire de fille, in which, nearly sixty years later, she reflects on the year she turned 18, the summer of 1958.

On October 6, 2022, the Swedish Academy announced that the Nobel Prize in Literature had been awarded to Annie Ernaux "for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, distances and collective constraints of personal memory. The international press praised the political and social struggles of the Norman writer and emphasized the originality of her writing.

Her work frequently deals with feminist themes, shame, and intimate themes that lead the reader to introspection. Her raw and incisive writing destabilizes and marks the memory, making her stories unforgettable. Annie Ernaux claims a neutral writing, "without judgment, without metaphor, without novelistic comparison", and evokes a style "objective, which neither valorizes nor devalues the facts narrated", thus seeking to "remain in the line of the historical facts, of the document". The term "clinical" writing is attributed to it.

Her work

Here are four of her books to discover the writing of this feminist figure from a working-class background.

La Place - the place (1983) :

 The book begins when Annie Ernaux passes the competitive examination for teachers of modern literature. A few weeks later, her father dies. The author paints a portrait of him in La Place. In this book, she evokes the delicate situation linked to her change of social environment. She is now "a class defector".

Born into a very modest Norman family - her father was a peasant and illiterate before becoming a shopkeeper -, Annie Ernaux moved away from this milieu by entering a bourgeois and intellectual sphere through her studies and her marriage. The differences in interests, concerns, activities, and associations created a gap between father and daughter, who no longer had much to say to each other.

A moving story about an inevitable estrangement. Our favorite.

(available in our library)

Une femme - a woman (1987) :

On Monday, April 7, 1986, Annie Ernaux's mother died in a nursing home. In three years, a cerebral disease, which destroys the memory, had led her to physical and intellectual decline. Annie Ernaux tries to find the different faces and the life of the one who was her mother. A quest for the meaning of the existence of a woman, first a worker, then a shopkeeper anxious to "hold her own", passionate about reading and for whom to rise "was first to learn". In La place, the author evoked her father. The two stories overlap, complement each other, but the light changes, here more carnal and contrasted. The writing, precise and concrete, resurrects in a moving way this mother who was, for her daughter, the embodiment of Time and of the original social condition: "I lost the last link with the world from which I came."

Les Armoires vides - The Empty Cupboards (1974) :

This is her first novel published in 1974 by Gallimard. Inspired by real events, it tells the story of the abortion she underwent in 1964 while she was a student. We find the author in the guise of Denise Lesur. The latter is alone in her student room at the Cité Universitaire and awaits the outcome of an abortion. Short and punchy, the book tells in detail this abortion felt as a failure, a form of humiliation. Humiliation, because the young woman, promised to a brilliant future, believes that her dream of emancipation from her original environment is slipping through her fingers.

Mémoire de fille - Memory of a girl (2016) :

With this book, Annie Ernaux sets out to find the "girl of 58". This girl is her. This missing text that she has been omitting for fifty years is the story of her first night, the summer of 1958, with a man. She, this "left" girl who knew nothing about life and who had never left her native Normandy.

But this text is not only the one of the discovery of eroticism. It is also her first, brutal incursion into the adult world, of grief and the end of dreams.




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