From The Economist:
Annie Ernaux is surely the only winner of the Nobel prize in literature to have written nostalgically—even ecstatically—about the London suburb of North Finchley. Her book of 2016, “A Girl’s Story”, is typical of the French writer’s approach. As the author recounts formative late-teenage experiences in Normandy and as an au pair in London, she blends deeply personal memoir with social and historical insight. Decades later, she returns to the city for a literary event; while her fellow delegates consume culture, she takes the Tube and plunges “back into my past life”. As she writes, “the only thing that matters to me is to seize life and time, understand, and take pleasure.”
Ms Ernaux’s forensic but lyrical French prose has been seizing life and time, and mining literary pleasure from even the most harrowing memories, for almost half a century. On October 6th the Swedish Academy chose her as its Nobel laureate for 2022 “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”. She is a prose poet of everyday hopes and fears; she probes how change and conflict affect the most “ordinary” of folk, especially women of supposedly low status. Many of her books channel the life she has led not around Left Bank cafés and salons, but in Cergy-Pontoise, a new and unglamorous suburban town north-west of Paris.
Born in Normandy in 1940, Ms Ernaux’s parents ran a café-grocery. She studied in Rouen and Bordeaux, taught in secondary schools and then, for 23 years, worked for a French distance-learning university, cned. Her shelf of two-dozen books began with fiction (“Cleaned Out” in 1974) but soon moved into a form of creative autobiography in which rigorous, unsparing accounts of private life enter the flow of shared social experience.
“A Woman’s Story” (1987), a searing account of her mother’s life and death from Alzheimer’s, helped secure her reputation in France. The injustices of class, gender and background loom large in her work, but never as political abstractions. This is history felt on the body, not just processed by the intellect. “I believe that desire, frustration and social and cultural inequality are reflected in the way we examine the contents of our shopping trolley or in the words we use to order a cut of beef,” she has said.
Desire, shame, sickness, loneliness and depression may brand her own and other lives. But, within and behind the most intimate feelings, she traces the marks of a whole culture and an epoch. This unique angle of vision broadened into “The Years” (2008), the book that ranks as her masterpiece. Its autobiographical trajectory widens into a collective psycho-social history of France between the 1940s and the turn of the millennium. Decades, governments and attitudes pass, but adverts, catchphrases and fads lodge in the collective memory as much as big ideas or great events. Translated by Alison Strayer, it won the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation in 2019 (of which your correspondent was a judge): to date, one of Ms Ernaux’s few honours in the Anglosphere. In France, her many awards include the Prix de la langue française and the Prix Marguerite-Yourcenar, both for the entire body of her work
Link to the rest at The Economist