Annie Ernaux shortlisted for a prestigious English literary prize

We will know this evening 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 history with historical events. The story is autobiographical, as is often the case with Annie Ernaux, but written in the third person.

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

Class defector, because born to parents who were workers and then small traders, then became an associate. Born Anne Duchesne, September 1, 1940 in Normandy, Annie Ernaux has published around twenty novels and autobiographical stories, the last of which, Girl memory, was published in 2016.


His first novel dates from 1974. Empty Cabinets evokes, through the character of Denise Lesur, her Norman childhood, her tug of war between two social circles, her parents. So many themes that we will find throughout his work. This first work already hesitates 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, yet mixed, recognition. “Interestingly, it is well received regardless of the political orientation of the media, as long as the critics are also class defectors. “

The publication of Simple 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 qualify as “midinette literature”. She is mocked for her popular references, such as a song by Sylvie Vartan, when there were already some in her previous works. It is still received positively by some, especially women, but there is an astonishing reversal. “

Supported by sociologists

But sociologists, who have been studying it since the 1980s, appreciate it. “In fact, 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 work 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 textbooks intended for vocational high schools,” says Isabelle Charpentier. She is introduced to it by activist teachers, who believe that the experiences she describes can resonate with the students they speak to. “

These are Years, in 2008, which brought it genuine critical recognition. And Annie Ernaux now seems to have achieved cult status. A wide variety of authors such as Edouard Louis or Virginie Despentes claim to be part of his work. It is adapted into a play, guest on television, cited as a reference on feminist and class issues. Committed to the extreme left, it takes a stand on the treatment of migrants, sexual violence or the veil.

Loyal readership

“The themes it addresses have gained in importance in recent years,” notes 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 the people who follow her, circulate her books, which contributes to the notoriety of her work. “

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

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Annie Ernaux shortlisted for a prestigious English literary prize

Hank Gilbert