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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Frozen Woman

Annie Ernaux

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To purchase A Frozen Woman

Title: A Frozen Woman
Author: Annie Ernaux
Genre: Novel
Written: 1981 (Eng.: 1995)
Length: 192 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Frozen Woman - US
A Frozen Woman - UK
A Frozen Woman - Canada
La femme gélee - Canada
La femme gélee - France
  • Translated by Linda Coverdale
  • French title: La femme gelée

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-written novel of the transition from girlhood to adulthood

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times B+ 13/8/1995 Madeleine Blais
The NY Times Book Rev. B 21/5/1995 Hermione Lee
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A+ Summer/1995 Carolyn Kuebler

  Review Consensus:

  Favourable, though degree of enthusiasm varies a great deal. Also an emphasis on the notion that this is distinctly a "woman's book". (Note the sex of the reviewers.)

  From the Reviews:
  • "In flawless detail Ernaux evokes from her own experience the common struggle of any person to remain creatively engaged with the world. Ernaux's passion for living, her intellectual capability, and her perspicuity remove layers of social and literary taboo and take language to a level of expression that supersedes jargon or literary affectation." - Carolyn Kuebler, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "A Frozen Woman doesn't have quite the concentrated, startling power of the later books, and it seems more chained to its moment in time. But there are, still, plenty of women readers for whom its bitter, sad, intelligent story of enclosure will ring true." - Hermione Lee, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Longer than most of her recent fiction, Annie Ernaux's A Frozen Woman is the novel of the narrator's passage from a young girl to a married woman with a child of her own. It is, ultimately, the story of how she becomes the "frozen woman" of the title, with hopes deadened, life dulled into routine, ambition thwarted.
       Much of the novel focusses on the childhood and adolescence of the narrator, a girl whose parents run a grocery store and cafe, with a mother who has some ambitions for the daughter and a father who is less of a presence in her life. The familiar cast of characters, in other words, the same family that figures in the other autobiographical novels, such as Shame, A Man's Place, and A Woman's Story.
       The prose is not yet as sparse as in the later works, but still very effective. Ernaux describes growing up exceptionally well: the girl's ignorance and curiosity, her ambitions, her desires. There's a lot of thinking about the mysteries and vagaries of sex, convincingly related.
       The narrator becomes less sure of herself as she reaches adolescence, interest in the other sex and self-consciousness thwarting some of her ambition. Still, she reads and studies a great deal, knowing that school offers the only way out of the limited world she currently inhabits. She sets her sights on becoming a teacher -- a realistic and not too ambitious goal. Nevertheless, she also questions her choices and options, comparing her situation with that of the others at school, especially the girls who clearly will just wind up getting married and drift off into a domestic life. It holds an attraction for her as well, and this natural wavering is well presented.
       Going to university she falls in love and gets married, and there the spiral into the state of being "frozen" begins. They get married, they soon have a child. Domestic responsibilities are almost entirely hers and she finds herself losing the will to fight against the dreary but simple routine of her family life.
       The contrast to the bright, curious child is a marked one. There are glimmers of hope -- release in writing, for example -- but Ernaux shows how easily one can fall into the trap, and how quickly one can freeze over.
       Very well written, certainly recommended.

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A Frozen Woman: Reviews: Annie Ernaux: Other books by Annie Ernaux under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Annie Ernaux was born in Normandy in 1940. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2022.

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