Five Key Books by Annie Ernaux

Five Key Books by Annie Ernaux


Here are five books that secured Annie Ernaux’s place as one of the leading voices of her generation in France and Thursday’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

– ‘Cleaned’ –

Ernaux’s first novel, published in 1974, told of the abortion she had undergone as a student 10 years earlier.

Slightly fictionalized, it begins with a young woman alone in her student residence in Paris, feeling humiliated by a pregnancy that she fears will shatter her hopes of escaping a peasant background.

Some critics have slammed the description of abortion as obscene, but her fearlessness was groundbreaking.

Ernaux would revisit the same subject for her memoir Happening in 2000, which was adapted into an award-winning film in 2021.

– “A Frozen Woman” –

Ernaux’s third book analyzed her life through the prism of gender, observing her transformation from a young girl full of dreams into an adult frozen by societal demands and patriarchal control.

The book also recounted her life as a mother in the 1970s and her marriage falling apart – three years before the couple finally divorced.

– ‘A place for men’ –

She received her first major prize in 1983 for her novel “A Man’s Place”, which was awarded the French Prix Renaudot.

It deals with their conflicting emotions in the transition from working class to bourgeois life, with Ernaux describing herself as a “class defector”.

She describes the rift that grew between her and her parents – who ran a small café in Normandy – after entering a world of university-educated intellectuals.

– ‘The Years’ –

The Years was first released in 2008 and is considered her masterpiece. It also brought her international attention with a highly successful English translation that earned her an International Booker Prize nomination.

Ernaux uses her life story to map the broader post-war generation in France, through the Algerian War, sexual liberation, protests and pop culture in the second half of the 20th century.

– “The Story of a Girl” –

Writing in her 70s, Ernaux went in search of her younger self – ‘the girl of ’58’.

It is the story of her first sexual experience and the portrait of a young Normandy girl who knew nothing about life and had just emerged from the cocoon of her childhood.

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