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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Cleaned Out

by
Annie Ernaux


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Cleaned Out



Title: Cleaned Out
Author: Annie Ernaux
Genre: Novel
Written: 1973 (Eng.: 1990)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Cleaned Out - US
Cleaned Out - UK
Cleaned Out - Canada
Les armoires vides - France
  • Translated, and with an Afterword by Carol Sanders
  • French title: Les armoires vide

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Our Assessment:

A- : strong, short novel of a student re-examining her life

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Cleaned Out was Annie Ernaux's first novel. The narrator, Denise Lesur (a thinly disguised version of the author herself), is a young university student who has just had an abortion. A brief introductory scene dealing with the abortion leads into the body of the novel, in which Denise re-examines her life.
       The territory is familiar from other novels by Ernaux: the family shop/café/bar, the childhood centered around the shop, the well-meaning but relatively simple parents, the narrator's escape from her background (through academic success). Ernaux has told much the same story in other books; nevertheless each version has its own rewards. This one seems, for much of it, more controlled, more carefully (though less precisely) written than the later works -- with surprising little bursts of anger.
       The happy childhood, centered around the shop and its many customers, is an interesting picture of life on the fringes between working and middle class. Only once she starts going to the more exclusive school does Denise realize that her world is very different from the middle-class households her classmates live in. Her intelligence leads to academic success that ultimately allows for acceptance, but she moves uneasily between the two worlds. She can never fit in completely with her classmates, nor can she forsake her roots entirely. As she grows older, moving on a path that will lead to university (a path hardly any of her classmates take, regardless of background), her alienation grows.
       Ernaux handles the complex relationship between daughter and parents well, and it is an interesting glimpse at that social environment. Ernaux is also particularly good with many of the significant aspects of growing up, especially the girl's slow sexual awakening and curiosity.
       Much of this is familiar from Ernaux's later books. Cleaned Out is still worthwhile: it does offer a slightly different perspective, and a somewhat different tone. An impressive achievement, certainly recommended.

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Links:

Cleaned Out: Annie Ernaux: Other books by Annie Ernaux under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Yasmina Reza's Ernaux-like vignettes in Hammerklavier
  • See also the Index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Annie Ernaux was born in Normandy in 1940. She has won numerous literary prizes, including the Prix Renaudot. Three of her books have been New York Times Notable Books of the Year.

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