Nobel laureate Ernaux is godmother of French grain – Reuters

  • French writer Annie Ernaux received the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday.
  • Her books, of which she has published more than 20, are often written through an autobiographical lens.
  • Despite being a bestselling author, Ernaux continued to work as she wanted to write without financial obligations.

Popular for her deceptively simple novels drawing on personal experience of class and gender, Nobel Literature Prize winner Annie Ernaux is a sort of Marcel Proust of the French working class.

Over the course of twenty books – many of which have been school texts in France for decades – she has looked unceremoniously at one of the great taboos of the country – the class – often through the prism of her own life.

She thus became a pioneer for a whole generation of French writers from hardline and immigrant backgrounds.

Virginie Despentes of “Vernon Subutex” fame hailed her as a key influence and Edouard Louis, whose first novel about growing up gay and poor in northern France has been translated into more than 20 languages , said he was “deeply moved by the power and beauty” of Ernaux’s work.

Her books are the grain of the French literary oyster, offering an alternative, as she puts it, to “unconditional admiration for la jolie phrase”.

They also went on screen, with Eventadapted from his own semi-autobiographical work on illegal abortion, nominated for a BAFTA award this year.

My story, your story

Outside France, the recognition of his work has only come for a few years, in particular after the translation into English of his flagship work of 2008, Yearswho was nominated for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2019.

In it, Ernaux used family photos as well as bits of popular culture to recall his life and explore the impact of larger historical events.

Personal experiences are the source of all of Ernaux’s work and she pioneered the “autofiction” genre in France, which gives narrative form to real-life experience.

“When I write, I don’t feel like I’m looking inside myself, I’m looking inside a memory,” she once said.

fame and shame

Ernaux, born on September 1, 1940 in Yvetot in Normandy, and who grew up above a small café-boutique run by her parents, describes herself as a “class defector”.

She explored this in several of her books, and in doing so offered a literary lifeline to young writers also from humble backgrounds.

Climbing the social ladder also left its mark and she was candid about the guilt and shame of what she felt was an act of betrayal against her parents and their way of life.

“Writing is the best I can do…as a defector, a political act and a gift,” said Ernaux, who left home for college at the age of 18.

Annie Ernaux. (Photo: Camilla Morandi – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

feminist model

Ernaux is a feminist role model to many – independent and outspoken and someone who has been through some pretty heartbreaking experiences.

Her first novel “Cleaned Out” in 1974 was a cold but heartbreaking account of an abortion she suffered in her youth and hid from her family.

She married in her mid-twenties and had two boys, but divorced in 1984 and raised her sons alone, continuing her writing and teaching in the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise, where she still lives.

Ernaux said his decision to keep a day job was due to his fear of losing everything – a worry rooted in the labor struggles of his youth – and also a desire to keep his writing free of financial obligations.

“If I made writing my only job, I would have to want my books to sell”, and this “material necessity” rubs off on the work, yet unconsciously “it stains it”.

In recent years, Ernaux has been a strong voice supporting the #MeToo movement, which has taken longer to take off in France with figures like actress Catherine Deneuve initially defending male “gallantry” and the right of men to flirt with women. women.

“I was so ashamed for Deneuve,” Ernaux said, describing her remarks as “a reflection of a privileged group of women.”

“In France, we hear so much about our culture of seduction, but it’s not seduction, it’s male domination.”

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Nobel laureate Ernaux is godmother of French grain – Reuters