The 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to French novelist Annie Ernaux

The online betting sites announced it among the favorites for a few days. They were right: Annie Ernaux was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2022, Thursday October 6. They thus crowned the career of the author of Years (Gallimard, 2008), born in 1940.

Annie Ernaux is the sixteenth Frenchwoman to receive, since 1901, the distinction endowed with 8 million crowns (approximately 740,000 euros), eight years after Patrick Modiano, and the seventeenth woman – she succeeds the Tanzanian novelist Abdelrazak Gurnah, distinguished in 2021.

Writing as a requirement “that cannot be left alone”

What is thus seen globally celebrated is a work that only practices autobiography (a term that she rejects, however) to tell a story, feelings, common emotions. A work admirable for its consistency, whose writing has always been conceived by its author as a requirement “who cannot let rest”focusing phrase after phrase, book after book, on attempting to elucidate reality, to gain access to the understanding and expression of a truth about existence otherwise inaccessible.

Such is the fundamental power that Annie Ernaux attributes to this exercise, located, according to the one who has always agreed to generously comment on her work during interviews, “between literature, sociology and history”.

The refusal of prettiness

Of the Empty cupboards (Gallimard, 1974) at girl memory (Gallimard, 2016), via The placeand The Event (Gallimard, 1983 and 2000) or even Look at the lights, my love (Seuil, 2014), the writer, committed to the far left, has greatly contributed to the evolution of French literature, and beyond.

She worked to upset the literary order as she wanted to shake the social order, writing in the same way about objects “considered unworthy of literature”such as abortion, the RER, supermarkets, and on others, held for more “noble” – time, memory, oblivion. By refusing, too, an ornamental vision of the sentence, to prefer a form of neatness and dryness – a “flat writing” which testifies to his distrust of the prettiness of language and the forms of domination that they exercise and reproduce.

“I wouldn’t have made it here if…” Article reserved for our subscribers Annie Ernaux: “I was only thinking of disobeying”

A class defector

Begun forty-six years ago, the work of Annie Ernaux, intensely linked to her life, is firmly in step with the times. The researcher, essayist and critic Dominique Viart notes (in Annie Ernaux, Time and memory – Stock, 2014) that she is “at the heart of the concerns of recent decades. She is attentive both to the major social issues – class difference, socio-cultural distinction, female claims… – and to the categories that art or thought have recently brought to the fore – questions of memory and everyday life, inheritance and filiation. Deeply involved in the discussion of literary phenomena as decisive as the return of the subject and autofiction, she participates in the debates that literature now holds with the human sciences”.

The native of Lillebonne (Seine-Maritime), grew up in her parents’ café-grocery store in Yvetot, which allowed her to be crossed, very early, “by all kinds of conversations and languages”, to become aware of social hierarchies, even the most subtle, of the tiniest forms of domination. Her accession, through her studies (which led her to become an associate professor of French) and her marriage, to a more bourgeois world, made her a “class defector”, and it was in this gap, this tension nourished by guilt, shame, regret, tenderness, too, from which writing is born.

Read also (2019): Article reserved for our subscribers Annie Ernaux, portrait of a social novelist

“The Years”, his masterpiece

Annie Ernaux’s latest book was published in France this year: it is the Young man (Gallimard). Widely read and admired in her country by critics and the public alike, the subject of numerous theses, the writer was probably made “Noble-worthy” by the translation into English, in 2018, ten years after its initial publication, of what is considered his masterpiece: Years. This text opens with a certainty: “All images will disappear”, and ends with a writer’s hope: “To save something from the time when we will never be again. »

Between the two is told, in the distanced and impersonal mode of the third person, a life, that of Ernaux, with, in the background, the evolution of the world over the years. Sliding from “she” to “we” to “we”, this book, whose working title was “total romance”is a masterful text on individual memory and collective memory, what makes us as individuals and as generations, classes… Anyone who has read it cannot be surprised at the choice of the Swedish Academy.

Read the interview with Annie Ernaux published in 2016: Article reserved for our subscribers Annie Ernaux: “Literature dissolves”

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