Annie Ernaux, a French writer, has been awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature. The 82-year-old author is well-known for works that straddle the boundary between memoir and fiction.
Erneaux, who was photographed in 1984, is well-known for her paintings dealing with guilt, misogyny, and class. Pierre Guillaud/AFP via Getty Images
The committee cited her "clinical acuity with which she exposes the origins, estrangements, and communal constraints of personal memory" in making the announcement. During his statement, the permanent secretary also mentioned that they had been unable to contact Ernaux to inform her of the triumph.
Ernaux was born in France in 1940. Cleaned Out, her first book, was published in 1974 and was an autobiographical story about procuring an abortion while it was still illegal in France. She authored the book undercover. "After my first book, my spouse made fun of me," she told the New York Times in 2020. "I pretended to work on a Ph.D. thesis in order to get some alone time."
In 1990, the book was translated into English.
At the announcement news conference, Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee for literature, was questioned if there was a political motivation for awarding the prize to someone who has written so personally about abortion. Olsson declined, stating that the committee is concerned with literature and literary excellence. Having said that, "It is equally critical for us that the laureate's work has a global impact. That it has the potential to reach everyone."
Ernaux released The Years, which many reviewers considered as her defining statement, after decades of unearthing her own past in several works. The Years, first published in 2008, was a comprehensive study at the civilization that gave birth to her. Ernaux eschewed using the pronoun "I" in favor of a larger "we," or occasionally "she," in her assessment of each year of her life from 1940 to 2006.
Azarin Sadegh, writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, described reading The Years in English to going through old family pictures.
"The visions of the past disclose themselves to the reader in shattered shapes and forms with holes all over," Sadegh writes. "You flip through this stack of photographs and writings, feeling immersed in the past. Years have passed, and most of the memories — recorded only in images and partially in recollection — have faded."
Her novel A Girl's Story was translated into English in 2020. It brought back her early adolescent sexual encounters and unearthed the humiliation of it all right before the sexual revolution.
Look at the Lights, My Love, by Erneaux, is being translated into English and will be released in 2023. It's a "reflection on the phenomena of the big-box superstore," according to the book's press release. Of course, through Ernaux's own memories.