Annie Ernaux in the running for a prestigious English literary prize

We will know tonight if Annie Ernaux is the winner of the International Man Booker Prize 2019, awarded in London. The French writer is in the running for Years, a novel published by Gallimard in 2008 and translated into English in 2017 by Alison Strayer. It takes place over sixty years, mixing the author’s personal story with historical events. The story is autobiographical. as often with Annie Ernauxbut written in the third person.

“The work of Annie Ernaux is part of what is called “auto-socio-biography”, explains Isabelle Charpentier, professor of sociology at the University of Picardie and author of a thesis in political science on Annie Ernaux . “Everything she writes is true, she tells her own life, but she intends to tell of the collective trajectories of class defectors through her own and that of those close to her. »

Class defector, because she was born to working-class parents, then small traders, then became an aggregate. Born Anne Duchesne on September 1, 1940 in Normandy, Annie Ernaux has published around twenty novels and autobiographical stories, the last of which, girl memorywas released in 2016.


His first novel dates from 1974. Empty Cabinets evokes, through the character of Denise Lesur, her Norman childhood, her tension between two social backgrounds, her parents. So many themes that we will find throughout his work. This first work hesitates, already, between novel and sociological writing.

For nearly ten years “his work was either ignored or half-acknowledged” according to Isabelle Charpentier. She quickly obtained a certain public success, but it was not until 1984, and the Renaudot prize for The place, for critical recognition, however mixed. “Interestingly, it is well received regardless of the political orientation of the medium, as long as the critics are also class defectors. »

The publication of easy passion, in 1992, is a new turning point. He recounts his forbidden passion, in his fifties, with a younger foreign businessman. “Although autobiographical, this novel seems to break with the characteristics of his work, the social dimension is much less strong, explains Isabelle Charpentier. Criticism is unleashed on what some call “workshop literature”. It is mocked for its popular references, such as a song by Sylvie Vartan, when there were already some in his previous works. It is still received positively by some, especially women, but there is an astonishing turnaround. »

Supported by sociologists

But sociologists, who have been studying it since the 1980s, appreciate it. “In reality, Annie Ernaux was recognized by sociological criticism much earlier than by literary criticism. It also relies on their recognition to defend itself. »

The first literary academic works on his work in France began in the years 1990-2000. It is also introduced in school textbooks, but not in literature, economics and social sciences. “The first time that his texts are given as an example in literature, it is in manuals for vocational high schools,” says Isabelle Charpentier. She is introduced by activist teachers, who believe that the experiences she describes can resonate with the students they are addressing. »

Those are Years, in 2008, which brought him real critical recognition. And Annie Ernaux now seems to have achieved cult author status. Very varied authors like Edouard Louis, or Virginie Despentes, claim their work. It is adapted into a play, invited to television, cited as a reference on feminist and class issues. Committed far leftit takes a position on the treatment of migrants, sexual violence or the veil.

loyal readership

“The themes it addresses have increased significantly in recent years, observes Isabelle Charpentier. But one of the elements of its success is that it knows how to retain its readers. She answers all the mail she receives, corresponds with many of them. These are people who follow her, circulate her books, which contributes to the notoriety of her work. »

This notoriety should increase considerably if she receives the Man-Booker. This prize recognizes works of fiction by living authors, published or translated into English. It is sponsored for the last time this year by the Man group, which has decided to leave its place for the next editions. “This prize is an ultimate consecration for Annie Ernaux”, believes Isabelle Charpentier. “I don’t think even she expected it. »

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Annie Ernaux in the running for a prestigious English literary prize