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the Complete Review
the complete review - journal

Look at the Lights, My Love

Annie Ernaux

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To purchase Look at the Lights, My Love

Title: Look at the Lights, My Love
Author: Annie Ernaux
Genre: Journal
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 81 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Look at the Lights, My Love - US
Look at the Lights, My Love - UK
Look at the Lights, My Love - Canada
Regarde les lumières mon amour - Canada
Regarde les lumières mon amour - France
Guarda le luci, amore mio - Italia
Mira las luces, amor mío - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Yale University Press
  • French title: Regarde les lumières mon amour
  • Translated by Alison L. Strayer

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Our Assessment:

B : slim, enjoyable take

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 11/4/2023 Sukhdev Sandhu
Literary Review . 4/2023 Tess Little
The LA Times . 19/5/2023 David L. Ulin
TLS . 5/5/2023 Laura Marris
The Washington Post . 6/4/2023 Kate Briggs
World Lit. Today . 11-12/2014 Geneviève Alvarado

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ernaux has described her writing style as “flat”. Here, too often, it is patronising. She ties herself in knots about whether to describe people in the supermarket as “black”. (...) Supermarkets are important. Supermarkets are rich in stories. Few, though, emerge from this grab-bag of jottings, which is too presumptuous and banal to merit being published in this raw state." - Sukhdev Sandhu, The Guardian

  • "The subject at the heart of Look at the Lights, My Love is what we reveal of ourselves in the strange sterility of the store. (...) Canadian Alison L Strayer translates hypermarché as ‘superstore’ (just as ‘carts’, not ‘trolleys’, roll down the aisles), but this is unmistakably an hypermarché, with the ‘strong odor’ of ‘overlapping salt cod fillets’ laid on fishmonger’s ice. As in Exteriors, the prose is spare to the point of abstraction, though it occasionally bursts into rich simile. (...) Look at the Lights, My Love is most illuminating when it focuses on the hypermarché itself." - Tess Little, Literary Review

  • "If such a project might appear anomalous coming from a writer given to internal excavation, it is also rooted in her work. (...) For Ernaux, this is a matter of both personal and political engagement, and it reverberates, as does so much of her writing, back to her childhood in Yvetot. Still, if it’s impossible, reading this book, not to think about her parents’ grocery/café, Ernaux eschews any easy judgment in favor of a more subtle reckoning." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Her observations -- which could almost be called field notes -- document the daily “spectacle” played out under the fluorescent lights, issuing a vibrant corrective to the idea of such stores as non-places. That isn’t to say Ernaux views them uncritically. But her chief mode is curiosity, translated with perfect, inquisitive casualness by Alison L. Strayer." - Laura Marris, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Ernaux’s diary is a provocation: to accept these life scenes as worthy of our time and attention. Strayer’s translation takes this on within the context of English-language literature, expanding its capacity to hold such miscellany as the physiognomy of a suburban French superstore, the language of its promotions and instructions to the customer, together with a packet of Milical cookies, a wedge of Reblochon." - Kate Briggs, The Washington Post

  • "Her writing reveals not only what she sees but what she feels and, of course, her personal thoughts. (...) In contrast with some of her other works, the author exposes herself to the observations of not just her readers but also of complete strangers that she encounters in the supermarket. (...) She certainly demonstrates a concern for our time period as she notes the differences in social class, cultures, and how commercialism conditions our behavior and determines our social values. Regarde les lumières mon amour is a fascinating contribution to contemporary literature." - Geneviève Alvarado, World Literature Today

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:

       In Look at the Lights, My Love Annie Ernaux goes shopping: the book is basically a journal, kept from November 2012 to October 2013, of some of her visits to the Auchan hypermarket -- the French version of a 'superstore' -- in Cergy, itself located: "inside the Trois Fontaines shopping center, the largest in Val d'Oise".
       Ernaux considers the shopping experience in its broadest sense, from the layout and functioning of the store -- including several riffs on the self-service checkouts -- to the people she watches and encounters there. She admits that going to the store is not always simply about going to buy something -- "I've often fled to the shopping center to forget the dissatisfactions of writing, losing myself in the crowd of shoppers and idlers" -- and her journal reflects this appeal of simply milling about in this environment.
       It is a revealing place, she notes:

     Here, as nowhere else, our way of life and bank account are exposed. Your eating habits, most private interests, even your family structure.
       As she notes in her introductory remarks, she's gone here before, describing "things seen in these supercenters" in a variety of her works (a footnote helpfully listing examples).
       So also now:
in order to "relate life," ours today, I had no hesitation about choosing superstores as my subject. I saw an opportunity to provide an account of the real practice of their routine use , far removed from conventional discourses often tinged with aversion that these so-called non-places arouse and which in no way correspond to my experience of them.
       She recalls her first encounter with such an establishment, in the 1970s:
I felt a secret thrill to be at the very heart of hypermodernity, which, for me, the place symbolized in a fascinating way . It was like an existential promotion.
       Ernaux largely observes, rather than judges -- even as her disappointment about, for example, the limited and bestseller-focused book section repeatedly shines through (down to the observation that they don't even bother having a salesperson there to possibly assist shoppers). And sometimes she does look beyond the actual superstore she wanders through, as when she muses (parenthetically):
I don't see Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, or Françoise Sagan doing their shopping in a superstore; Georges Perec yes, but I may be wrong about that.
       Look at the Lights, My Love is a very slim volume but it is an enjoyable take on the odd hub that the superstore is in modern society. Ernaux's observations of what these superstores offer -- not just goods for purchase but an experience that includes the social -- and also their hard-nosed capitalist function and foundation make for an appealing little ramble.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 April 2023

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Look at the Lights, My Love: 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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© 2023 the complete review

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