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the Complete Review

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Annie Ernaux
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Annie ERNAUX
Nationality: French
Born: 1 September 1940
Awards: Prix Renaudot (1984)

  • Studied at the University of Rouen
  • Has worked as a teacher, and professor (at the Centre National d'Enseignement par Correspondance)

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Cleaned Out - novel, 1974 (Les armoires vides, trans. Carol Sanders, 1990)
  • Ce qu'ils disent ou rien - novel, 1977
  • A Frozen Woman - novel, 1981 (La femme gelée, trans. Linda Coverdale, 1995)
  • A Man's Place - novel, 1984 (La place, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1992)
  • Une Femme - novel, 1987 (A Woman's Story, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1991)
  • Simple Passion - novel, 1991 (Passion simple, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1993)
  • Journal du dehors - novel, 1993 (Exteriors, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1996)
  • Shame - novel, 1997 (La honte, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1998)
  • "I Remain in Darkness" - memoir, 1997 (Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1999)
  • Happening - novel, 2000 (L'événement, trans. Tanya Leslie, 2001)
  • La vie extérieure - non-fiction, 2000
  • Se perdre - journal, 2001
  • L'occupation - novel, 2002
  • L'ecriture comme un couteau - interview, 2003 (with Frédéric-Yves Jeannet)
  • Les Années - novel, 2008

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Annie Ernaux:

  • "Annie Ernaux is the sort of writer who practices vivisection. With words, she lays open a life -- not only her own but others' as well: mother, father, lover, friend. Keen language and unwavering focus allow her to penetrate deep, to reveal pulses of love, desire, remorse." - Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review (28/11/1999)

  • "Ms. Ernaux (...) has created something of a genre: the emotionally minimalist, stylistically uninflected chronicles of a hypersensitive middle-aged woman examining her own life and those of her parents. Her work represents a severely pared-down Proustianism, a testament to the persistent, haunting and melancholy quality of memory." - Richard Bernstein, The New York Times (22/11/1999)

  • "Annie Ernaux's work is remarkably of a piece, each book circling back to paraphrase, correct, emendate, and reinvest earlier ones. (...) Her work, with its blurring of fictional, autobiographical, and confessional elements, of the discursive and the representational, leads us virtually with each sentence to question supposed borders between finding and making, re-creation and reinvention; to question the notion of literature itself." - James Sallis, Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring/2000)

  • "Annie Ernaux is not afraid of feelings. She writes like a general in command of a vast army of feelings." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times (30/9/2001)

  • "Annie Ernaux writes short, spare autobiographical books that are quickly dispensed with and difficult to forget. With the dispassion and efficiency of a military strategist, she ambushes her past, prying it from its refuge in nostalgia and oblivion and holding it up naked for all to see." - Emily Eakins, The New York Times Book Review (28/10/2001)

  • "Ernaux's talent lies in her distinctive style, characterized by its simplicity, truthful nature, and occasional brutal violence. In the space of a few pages, she captures the reader, who is seduced by the economy of her prose." - E.Nicole Meyer, World Literature Today (Winter/2002)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Writing is direct and (often unflinchingly) honest
  • Interesting (and piercing) point of view
  • Does some things -- confusion of childhood, discovery of sexuality -- exceptionally well
  • Her books are short, powerful reads
  • Accessible to an English-speaking audience (and most of her writing is available in translation)

    Cons:
  • Familiar subjects covered again and again (her parents and her childhood in particular)
  • Often little analysis or even reflection -- facts are merely presented
  • Autobiographical focus of all the books

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the complete review's Opinion

     Annie Ernaux's slim volumes are powerful little reads. They are short fictions, based in her life, most only a hundred pages or so in length. Similar territory is revisited and reexamined from book to book as she tries to come to terms with her childhood, her parents, her love affairs, and still she manages to create something new each time. Ernaux's self-reflection is surprisingly detached, a change from the usual obsessive autobiographical first-person fictions. The public display might make some uneasy, but the books hold great fascination.
     Ernaux writes simply, clearly, to the point. There is no great embellishment. In style and form she sticks to basics -- and still manages to achieve a certain poetry.
     It is an interesting life she has led: shopkeeper's daughter, a gifted student that escaped her working-class background through academic success (a difficult transition that continues to haunt and colour her life at every stage), teacher. With each book a new facet is revealed. Many of the significant stages in her life have been starkly revealed, neither dressed up nor self-pityingly played up. Ernaux admits to vulnerability and weakness. She is human and believable.
     Each next chapter is eagerly awaited.

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Links

Annie Ernaux: Annie Ernaux's Books at the complete review See also:
  • Index of other Author Pages at the complete review
  • Index of French literature at the complete review

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