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Annie Ernaux
at the
complete review:

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


Name: Annie ERNAUX
Nationality: French
Born: 1 September 1940
Awards: Prix Renaudot (1984)
Nobel Prize in Literature, 2022

  • 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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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)
  • A Woman's Story - novel, 1987 (Une Femme, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1991)
  • Simple Passion - novel, 1991 (Passion simple, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1993)
  • Exteriors - novel, 1993 (Journal du dehors, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1996)
  • "I Remain in Darkness" - memoir, 1997 (Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1999)
  • Shame - novel, 1997 (La honte, trans. Tanya Leslie, 1998)
  • Happening - novel, 2000 (L'événement, trans. Tanya Leslie, 2001)
  • Things Seen - non-fiction, 2000 (La vie extérieure, trans. Jonathan Kaplansky, 2010)
  • Getting Lost - journal, 2001 (Se perdre, trans. Alison L. Strayer, 2022)
  • The Possession - novel, 2002 (L'occupation, transl. Anna Moschovakis, 2008
  • L'ecriture comme un couteau - interview, 2003 (with Frédéric-Yves Jeannet)
  • L'usage de la photo - autobiographical, 2005 (with Marc Marie)
  • The Years - memoir, 2008 (Les années, trans. Alison L. Strayer, 2017)
  • L'autre fille - novel, 2011
  • L’atelier noir - non-fiction, 2011
  • Look at the Lights, My Love - journal, 2014 (Regarde les lumières mon amour, trans. Alison L. Strayer, 2023)
  • A Girl's Story - novel, 2016 (Mémoire de fille, trans. Alison L. Strayer, 2020)

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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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)

  • "Annie Ernaux is long overdue to be recognised in Britain as one of the most important writers in contemporary France, and this edition of The Years ought to do the trick." - Lauren Elkin, The Guardian (22/6/2018)

  • "In this attempt at unearthing, her prose combines the spare and the unsparing. She seems desperate to put it all on the page: period blood, abortions, contraceptive pills, dirty underwear, erections, and semen. But Ernaux's writing is rubbed down, simple, almost clinical in its exactness. From the vantage of adulthood, she Googles and questions, she revisits old haunts and reads old letters, as if she were a detective cracking an unsolvable case: the mystery of her own past. (...) Central to her work is an awareness that the most intimate moments of life are always governed by the circumstances in which they occur -- that probing the personal will also involve investigating the historical." - Madeleine Schwartz, The New Yorker (20/4/2020)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • 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)

  • 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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Annie Ernaux: Annie Ernaux's Books at the complete review See also:

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© 1999-2023 the complete review

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