When Annie Ernaux’s “The Years” was first published in French in 2008, it was immediately met with critical acclaim. Eleven years later, this book of French literature, and the interest in his work does not seem to stop. Her works are found in the curricula of colleges and universities in France and have been the subject of several academic articles.
In his texts we find themes from what has been called auto/biographical fiction that is woven from the most intimate conflicts to focus on collective memory. If he bildungsroman feminist focuses on the narrator’s growing awareness of the impact of gender on her experience and identity, Ernaux’s writing represents the construction of gender identity as inextricably linked to the question of social class.
Their stories are narrated in the first person, almost always from the working class, which have been overcome thanks to the state educational system. This two-pronged approach demonstrates the importance that Ernaux attributes to minority representation, striving to reduce the social exclusion of the “petit gens”, whether they are women or members of the working class.
Hence the importance of Ernaux’s work, highlighting the absence of the representation of marginalities through a form of collective representation, strongly criticizing the change in values when the working-class origin is forgotten.
As the title of one of her works, “La vergüenza” (1997), indicates, the writer perceives writing as an exculpatory means through which her past can be restored and her working-class childhood validated in the story.
Another important feature in his work are “taboo” topics, such as abortion, female sexual passion, the death of a father due to Alzheimer’s, which he addresses in detail and, at times, disturbingly, creating a disruption and the consequent destabilization of ideas in readers and in strictly literary genres such as the categorization of the genre and its especially fluid manifestations in the field of autobiography; the position of a subject articulated by minority groups and the role of language in the formation of identity; the deconstruction of strategies of oppression; and the importance that feminist ideologies continue to have.
Ernaux’s first three works are autobiographical novels, but after the publication of “The Frozen Woman” (1981) he asked Gallimard to remove the specific reference to the fiction classification. Beginning with “La Place” (1983), the writings incorporate a variety of different genres, such as ethnography, sociology, fiction, the diary form, and, above all, auto/collective biography.
Annie Ernaux’s work dialogues harmoniously with Chilean and Latin American authors. As Lorena Amaro had already worked on it in her text “La pose autobiográfico” (2018) that, faced with the question “Who says I?” Piglia appear with his alter ego Renzi and Sylvia Molly in Argentina. In Chile, from that social and collective speech we have Manuel Rojas and Carlos Droguett from a violent childhood; or the narratives of the so-called “children’s literature”, such as Nona Fernández, Alejandra Costamagna, Cynthia Rimsky, Alejandro Zambra, Diego Zuñiga, Alia Trabucco, among others in which this social and collective author is combined.
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The intimate as a collective: The Nobel Prize for Literature to Annie Ernaux