Annie Ernaux, a Nobel in 6 volumes

♦ In transition: “The Frozen Woman”, 1981

The “frozen woman”, it is the married woman who has given up her freedom and her dreams. The narrator recounts her life in the first person, from her childhood in Normandy until her thirties. Her precocious desire for emancipation, her taste for studies and the importance of having, as the daughter of grocers, ” good marks “. Then the interest in boys. His wedding. And how she freezes in a union where household chores and care fall to her. The Frozen Woman powerfully illustrates The Second Sex de Beauvoir and “how to become a woman” in the last century : “A little horse put down. »

Annie Ernaux’s literary style is already taking shape. It goes to the essential, sober and visual. The writer evokes the soundtrack of the time – songs, advertisements, vocabulary… – and the details of her daily life as a modern Sisyphus with clinical precision. A book of passage (from Normandy to Annecy, from student to wife, from a modest background to the petty bourgeoisie), it also marks the journey towards another writing. In this “intermediate text”, as Annie Ernaux defines it, it turns its back on fiction. The personal narrative, broken down more analytically than in his previous writings (Empty Cabinets1974; what they say or nothing1977), is treated as a common good.

Folio, 192 pages, €6.60

♦ Family: “La Place”, 1983

autobiographical story, The place is a remarkable evocation of the past and a tribute to the father figure. Annie Ernaux recounts her childhood and adolescence, the “little life” of modest people, daily life in the coffee shop, and the social divide that widens over time. Each step forward, each book read, takes him further away from his parents, who place all their hopes in school, “the universe for me has turned around”. Words and expressions return, like those of the father who sometimes tries to “to speak in distinction” so as not to shame her in front of the few friends she sometimes brings home. My father, she writes, had “the hope that I would be better than him”.

What is my place?, asks the author. Is social climbing a betrayal? “I write perhaps because we had nothing more to say to each other. » Written in the refined style that characterizes her work, a style that she calls “flat”, where nothing is left to chance, where everything is said without frills, approaching a naked and implacable truth. Sometimes tender, often cruel. She takes an uncompromising look at the world, where pain remains hidden, modest. It is undoubtedly his most universal writing, rewarded with the Renaudot prize in 1984.

Folio, 128 pages, €5.90

♦ Insane: “Simple Passion”, 1992

easy passionleaves an impression of great cold. Nothing protects its narrator, naked, disarmed by her obsession with a man of whom we know very little: his name is A., is married, comes from the East and loves “Saint Laurent suits”. ” She “Annie Ernaux’s double, receives only brief hand-to-hand combat which, once finished, propels her into waiting for the next one. “When he would have put on his jacket, it would all be over, she writes. I was just time passing through me. » Time which, at the same time, brings closer to the future meeting and distances from the previous one.

Seeing A. is all that matters to her, who lives “the most violent and least explicable reality there is” : passion. A passion ” simple “, says the title, because the writer dissects it without frills. An experience, no more, no less, recounted with exceptional accuracy, perhaps to reach this conclusion: “I discovered what one can be capable of, in other words everything. Sublime or mortal desires, lack of dignity, beliefs and behaviors that I found insane in others as long as I did not have recourse to them myself. »

Folio, 96 pages, €7.20

♦ Chilling: “The Event”, 2000

The same ” guilt “, ” horror “, “disbelief awaiting the verdict”… During a visit to the hospital for an HIV test, the author plunges back into a painful past. Going through her 1963 diary, she relives the distress of the brilliant student refusing to allow a baby to come to life in her body. Abortion will be her decision. The writer, once again, breaks a taboo by describing with a surgical pen her obstacle course to terminate her pregnancy in France before the pill and the Veil law. Enamelled with pressure and vexation from doctors, this “event” will pass through the room of an angel maker, in Paris, to end in a hospital in Rouen.

It’s a “total human experience of life and death” that Annie Ernaux wanted “put into words” in this gripping and challenging story for the reader, published in 2000. She questions morality, patriarchy, taboos and the law, “the shame of those who aborted and the reprobation of others”. The writer once again evokes her abortion, experienced at the time as a “social failure”in his latest book, The young man (also at Gallimard).

Folio, 144 pages, €6.60

The Event was the subject of a radio adaptation by Sophie Lemp for France Culture. To listen on and in podcasts.

♦ Recomposed: “The Years”, 2008

With this book, the thickest of her work, Annie Ernaux begins her search for lost time. Estate of ” I remember “, fragments sometimes reduced to the dryness of their enumeration, this series of snapshots captured in the air of time deploys the collective memory. With this “sort of impersonal autobiography”, Annie Ernaux reconstructs the past. Observer and commentator, she makes the choir of a country heard, moving seamlessly from the intimate to the general, distilling the national novel at the height of an oilcloth. Or how, starting from his “I”, constitute a generational “we”.

It is also, through external events that make the news, the story of a young post-war woman, leaving her class of origin, bathed in the euphoria of gaining access to knowledge, to culture, tempered by the melancholy of becoming a neo-bourgeois. Around photos, films, songs, elections, travels, married and family life, through her writing of feelings, Annie Ernaux pursues a goal that only literature allows her to achieve: “To save something from the time when we will never be again. »

Folio, 256 pages, €8.40

The Years has been adapted from Sophie Lemp for France Cultureand readings by Isabelle Huppert for “The Blue Hour” on France Inter. to listen on and in podcast.

♦ Introspective : “ Girl’s Memory”, 2016

In the summer of 1958, Annie Ernaux, still a minor – she was 18 – was a summer camp instructor. She falls in love with a man without perceiving that he mistreats her and wants to possess her. She falls into the trap without understanding. The candor of his desire is his weakness. Annie Ernaux objectifies the events, their sequence and their consequences. What happens to him the summer of his 18 years creates a shock wave that spreads and digs ” an abyss “ that it will take decades to exhume, to confront, then to reveal. To serve the cause of women.

This belated testimony, half a century later, too long contained, withheld, on a moment of humiliation and shame, thrown into food, traces a line of fire that sheds a dull light on his books to come. A model of introspection for universal use, woven from intimate strata, exploration of an evolution, chilling tale of lost innocence, this brief text describes the trauma of a rape linked to the first sexual experience, the seal of male domination. of which all the work of Annie Ernaux bears the trace.

Folio, 176 pages, €7.20

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