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

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

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

“I consider that it is a very great honor that is being given to me and, for me, at the same time, a great responsibility, a responsibility that is given to me by giving me the Nobel Prize”the winner reacted to Swedish television SVT. “That is, to testify (…) in a form of equity, of justice, in relation to the world”she added.

Writing as a requirement “that cannot be left alone”

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

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

The rejection of beauty

Since empty cabinets (Gallimard, 1974) in girl memory (Gallimard, 2016), via SquareY The event (Gallimard, 1983 and 2000) or even Look at the lights, my love (Seuil, 2014), the writer, committed to the extreme left, has contributed greatly to the evolution of French literature and beyond.

He worked to disrupt the literary order as he wanted to shake the social order, writing in the same way about objects. “considered unworthy of literature”such as abortion, the RER, supermarkets and others, held back for more “noble” – time, memory, oblivion. Also rejecting an ornamental view of prayer, preferring a neat and dry form, a “flat writing” which attests to their distrust of the beauty of language and the forms of domination that they exercise and reproduce.

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

A class dropout

Begun forty-eight years ago, Annie Ernaux’s work, closely linked to her life, is firmly in tune with the times. The researcher, essayist and critic Dominique Viart points out, in Annie Ernaux: time and memory (Stock, 2014), that she is “at the center of the concerns of recent decades. She is attentive both to the great social questions -class differences, socio-cultural distinction, feminine demands…- as well as to the categories that art or thought have recently staged -issues of memory and daily life, inheritance and affiliation. 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 has with the human sciences”.

The native of Lillebonne (Seine-Maritime) grew up in her parents’ café-grocery store in Yvetot, which allowed her to cross, very soon, “for all kinds of conversations and languages”, to become aware of even the most subtle social hierarchies, of the most minute forms of domination. Her access, 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 dropout”, and it was in that gap, in that tension fueled because of guilt, shame, regret, tenderness, too, from where writing is born.

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

“The Years”, his masterpiece

This year the latest book by Annie Ernaux was published in France: it is the Young man (Galimard). Widely read and admired in her country by both critics and the public, the subject of numerous theses, the writer probably became “Worthy of Nobility” for the English translation, in 2018, ten years after its initial publication, of what is considered his masterpiece: The 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, in the distanced and impersonal way of the third person, a life is told, that of Ernaux, with, in the background, the evolution of the world over the years. Sliding from “her” to “we”, to “us”, this book, whose working title was “Roman total”, is a masterful text on individual memory and collective memory, what makes us individuals and generations, classes. .. Anyone who has read it cannot be surprised by 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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