Five key books by Annie Ernaux
Here are five books that secured Annie Ernaux’s place as one of the leading voices of her generation in France and on Thursday, the Nobel Prize for Literature.
– ‘Cleaned Out’ –
Ernaux’s first novel, published in 1974, recounted the abortion she underwent 10 years earlier while still a student.
Lightly fictionalised, it opens with a young woman alone in her student dorm in Paris, feeling humiliation over a pregnancy that she fears will destroy her hopes of escaping a peasant background.
Some critics decried the description of the abortion as obscene, but its fearlessness was groundbreaking.
Ernaux would return to the same subject for her memoir “Happening” in 2000, which was adapted into an award-winning film in 2021.
– ‘A Frozen Woman’ –
Ernaux’s third book analysed her life through the prism of gender, looking at her transformation from a young girl full of dreams into an adult frozen in place by societal demands and patriarchal control.
The book also recounted her life as a mother in the 1970s and her disintegrating marriage — three years before the couple finally divorced.
– ‘A Man’s Place’ –
Her first major prize came for her 1983 novel “A Man’s Place”, which won France’s Prix Renaudot.
It deals with her conflicted feelings about transitioning from working class to bourgeois life, with Ernaux calling herself as “a class defector”.
She describes the chasm that grew between her and her parents — who ran a small cafe-shop in Normandy — after she entered a world of university-educated intellectuals.
– ‘The Years’ –
First published in 2008, “The Years” is considered her masterpiece. It also brought her greater attention internationally with a hugely successful English translation that saw her nominated for the International Booker Prize.
Ernaux uses her life story as a way of mapping the wider postwar generation in France, though the Algerian War, sexual liberation, protests and pop culture of the second half of the 20th century.
– ‘A Girl’s Story’ –
Writing in her 70s, Ernaux set off in search of her younger self — “the girl of ’58”.
It is the story of her first sexual experience and a portrait of a young girl from Normandy who knew nothing of life and had just left the cocoon of her childhood.