A Nobel Prize for Literature for Annie Ernaux? The idea is not absurd

She is in the lead this Wednesday, 8 to 1, on the British betting site of Ladbrokesjust ahead of Ngugi wa Thiong’o – also rated at 8/1 –, Haruki Murakami, long-time challenger at 10/1, and Margaret Atwood, author of The Scarlet Maid. On the eve of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the French writer Annie Ernaux is considered, by the bookmakers, as the most “nobelizable” of all world literature.

To read: Annie Ernaux’s memory lesson

What does this flattering ranking mean, noted by the Guardian and several other media? Is it really the sign of an upcoming election? Only the announcement of the Swedish jury’s decision will really put an end to these questions. It will be this Thursday, October 6, at 1 p.m. – “at the earliest”, specifies the Nobel institution. However, the appearance of Annie Ernaux at the top of the list is not without a certain consistency.

Later translated into English

First condition to be distinguished by the Nobel, the translation, especially in English. However, if Annie Ernaux, who was born in 1940 and published since 1974, has been read and studied for a long time by the Anglo-Saxon academic world, her major work, Years (The Years), published in French in 2008, was not translated until ten years later; The Event (happening), seminal book on abortion, was also only recently released in English. The publication of The Years, very noticed, had allowed Annie Ernaux to appear in 2019 on the last list of contenders for the Man Booker International Prize. Since then, translations into English of other books by the writer have multiplied. This intense and belated translation activity may explain why Annie Ernaux did not appear earlier on the bookmakers’ lists – which is a good sign, by the way, given previous examples.

Read also: Not “Nobelles” enough

Not enough women

Added to this is the scarcity of female winners, 16 in all and for all. Only nine women have won a Nobel Prize for Literature in the 20th century, and already – fortunately – seven in the 21st century. Among these 16 writers, however, there is not a single Francophone. The appointment of Annie Ernaux could therefore be part of a logic that encourages jurors to look at writers and to vary the languages, literary genres and countries distinguished. But this same logic could also push the jurors to look at Africa, a poor continent for the Nobel Prize in Literature with only four writers crowned in the history of the prize. To which is added the fact that last year it was already a woman, the poet Louise Glück, who was elected.

Read also: Louise Glück, the sacred call of poetry

A deserved prize

Finally, it must be said, Annie Ernaux deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature. His work, largely autobiographical, has both literary and historical value. If her writing is “white”, according to the consecrated term, the way she looks at, approaches and restores the visible and invisible reality testifies to a remarkable and singular mastery and art. If his work is partly a return to oneself, to one’s life, there is nothing navel-gazing about it, on the contrary. It is in the surprise, in the questioning, never in the testimony or the thesis.

Her books – more than twenty to date – to be personal nonetheless refer back to the condition of women and recount this major turning point that the 20th century represented for them, with the advent of rights and contraception. But Annie Ernaux is not limited to the female world, in her texts. It is a whole era that she strives to restore, thus becoming the autobiographer of all those who, like her, crossed the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. E.Sr.

Five other “nobelisables”

■ Haruki Murakami, the eternal favorite

The Chinese Mo Yan, crowned in 2012, remains the last non-European or North American writer to have been dubbed by the Swedish Academy. Could the Japanese succeed him and thus become the fourth Nobel-winning Asian? If the author of labyrinthines Kafka on the shore and 1Q84 has for ten years been regularly quoted, even favorite, it unfortunately seems that its time has passed and that it has become too internationally read and recognized to be sacred. Unless, a year after having revealed a little-known and hardly translated American poet, Louise Glück, the five jurors decide to ensure abundant worldwide media coverage, in “Murakami mode at last!”.

■ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a committed Nigerian

In a few years, she has become one of the African voices that matter, at the same time as an essential figure of modern feminism. Even if she is still relatively young, the Nigerian at 44 would make a magnificent winner, it would be the signal of an opening towards tomorrow and elsewhere, at a time when the Swedish Academy promises more diversity, but without always really stick to it. Added to this is the fact that the African continent has not received the Nobel Literature since 2003 and the coronation of the Captonian JM Coetzee. Rewarding Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would also be a good way to forget the controversy that surrounded the awarding of the 2019 prize to the controversial Peter Handke, who distinguished himself for the worst by attending the funeral of the genocidaire Slobodan Milosevic.

■ Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the voice of decolonization

Born in 1938 in British Kenya (the country only won its independence in 1963), he is often considered one of the greatest living African writers. Preferring him to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would be a way to highlight a continent too often forgotten through a major and accomplished work, started in the early 1960s. blood petals, published in English in 1977 and in French eight years later, Ngugi wa Thiong’o delivered a novel that was both intimate and epic, a portrait of a Kenya that left behind some of the poorest population at the time of its freedom from the British Empire. Bringing this book back to light in 2021 would make sense.

■ Maryse Condé, good kisses from the Caribbean

With the native of Pointe-à-Pitre, it is the Caribbean which could appear for the second time – after Derek Walcott in 1992 – in the tables of the Nobel Prize for Literature. For the Swedish Academy, which in recent years has expressed its desire to move towards more inclusiveness, to move away from the Old and New Continent and to put more women on the charts, the Guadeloupean – a great intellectual who thinks about the world, the relationship to others, and is beyond the cliché is a true citizen of the world – would make a magnificent Nobel. In 2018, Maryse Condé received the “alternative” Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded by a collective of 109 Swedish writers. Would that be a disadvantage for her?

■ Margaret Atwood, the Scarlet Canadian

The general public knows her as the author of The Scarlet Maid, a dystopian – and feminist – novel published in 1985 and which became a successful series in 2017 – after having already been adapted by Volker Schlöndorff in 1990 in a somewhat forgotten film. But the work of the Canadian, who began writing at a very young age, obviously cannot be summed up in terms of this popular success alone. Rewarding it would also allow the most prestigious of literary prizes to highlight anticipation as a major genre speaking, beyond a relentlessly efficient narration, of the ecological, societal, political or economic threats that make the future sometimes so scary. “All that’s missing is the Nobel, Queen Margaret,” wrote The weather in 2017. S.G.

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A Nobel Prize for Literature for Annie Ernaux? The idea is not absurd