The Annals of Annie Ernaux

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In her speech accepting the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature, Annie Ernaux (b. 1940) said that she regarded the award as recognition of “a collective victory” by all who fought to defend human dignity and liberty. The literature prize recognises the totality of a writer’s achievement, but there is little doubt that, if any one of Ernaux’s books deserved the accolade, it is Les Années (2008), generally regarded as her masterpiece. In her Swedish Academy address, Ernaux stressed that her aim in writing so many books about her own life was not to gratify her ego but to awaken in her readers a recognition of shared experiences, and perhaps an illumination about their meaning. Les Années, which she has described as an “impersonal autobiography”, fuses together two major strands of her work, memoir and socio-cultural investigation. Her earliest books, however, were novels. The first, L’Arbre, written between 1962 and 1963, was rejected by Éditions Seuil and remains unpublished. What we know about it – largely from information given by Ernaux in the volume of essays devoted to her work, published by Les Cahiers de l’Herne in 2022 – suggests that it had a then-fashionable existentialist character. In one of a series of interviews with Michelle Porte, published as Le vrai lieu (2014), Ernaux described this first effort as “rather obscure, perhaps crazy to a reader”, but added that what she had been trying to say – that selfhood was intimately linked to images formed in the mind – was only finally successfully expressed in Les Années.

Her subsequent, published novels were semi-autobiographical. Les Armoires vides (1974) and Ce qu’ils disent ou rien (1977) concerned the initiation into adulthood of restless teenage girls (including an episode in the former novel describing an abortion, something she had undergone in 1964), while La Femme gelée (1981), artistically the most accomplished of the three, documented a spirited young woman’s frustration at the constraints of a conventional bourgeois marriage (her own marriage, which produced two sons, lasted from 1964 until 1982). All these were narrated in the first person, and reflected Ernaux’s experience as a child whose parents had hauled themselves up the social scale from ouvriers to the status of petits-commerçants, maintaining a precarious foothold on respectability, and who sent their daughter to a private Catholic school in order to give her a better start in life, with the ironical result that she felt increasingly alienated from their world.

In her novels, Ernaux can be seen to be confronting personal problems through the medium of artistic creation, working, albeit most effectively, on a limited canvas. Subsequently, her work underwent a major change of direction. Abandoning the novel form, she explored her parents’ lives in La Place (1983) and Une Femme (1987), which focus on her father and mother respectively (with inevitable common ground). She quickly realised that the style of her novels – ostentatiously literary and self-assertive, even brutal on occasion – would be unsuitable for this task. The new books were written in a style she called “plate”: plain, bald, unadorned, neutral, with no rhetorical flourishes or metaphorical displays, yet extremely moving by virtue of its restraint. They aren’t conventional linear biographies; rather they consist of episodes, verbal snapshots (Ernaux often uses photographs as a point of departure in her work) which illuminate not only these individual lives but processes of socio-cultural change which affected successive generations. Ernaux thought of them as at the intersection point of history and sociology (she was influenced by the work of Pierre Bourdieu), pointing out that she did not call the book about her mother Ma mère but Une femme, which indicates a degree of typicality. Similarly, La Place may refer less to a town square, in this instance, than to the importance of “knowing one’s place” in society, and of being “placed” within it by others.


Vivid portraits of Ernaux’s mother, Mme Duchesne, are given in Les armoires vides and La femme gelée, as well as the more factual accounts in Une femme and, later, «Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit» (1997), an unsparing account, drawing on Annie’s journal, of her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s (the title is a sentence she uttered in a lucid moment). As a role model, Mme Duchesne bore no resemblance to the feminine icons Annie was encouraged by her schoolteachers to revere – the Virgin Mary, or “vos chères mamans” who, it was presumed, deferred to the man of the house, undertook all the routines of cleaning, shopping, and cooking and took pains to be demure, well turned out, and refined. Instead, she was a big, brusque, untidy woman, full of vigour and energy, speaking in a loud voice a French larded with patois, which was not the French taught or spoken at school. She dominated her husband, managing the business side of the café-épicerie which they owned, and laying down the law within the family. As someone who had herself risen above the class into which she was born – she had left school before she was thirteen – Mme Duchesne was intensely ambitious for her daughter, who was never expected to help around the house, instructed in cooking or needlework, or trained in the graces proper to a future wife and mother. Her academic work took priority. All this set her apart from her classmates, because she had been sent to a private school whose pupils came mainly from the middle class, rather than to the local school where she would have mixed with girls from similar backgrounds to her own. Her flawless academic record was a matter of pride, and also contributed to the respect in which the family was held by customers and neighbours (a vital matter, since both her parents were conscious of their humble backgrounds and were terrified of “losing face” in the community).

A devout Catholic, Mme Duchesne took Annie to Mass (her father attended occasionally for the sake of peace and quiet), and exercised strict surveillance over her moral character, fearful that she might be seduced by some predatory boy, and rendered unmarriageable. As she entered adolescence, this aspect of her mother’s control was felt to be stifling and restrictive, leading to tensions in the family and to a complex attitude to sexuality as both powerfully desirable and dangerous. To the young Annie, her first communion was a rite of passage on a par with her first period and her entry into the top form. In Les Anneés, she observes that once the Church lost its power to police sexual behaviour, its role in society was negligible.


In other texts, both before and after Les Années, Ernaux would develop this family subject-matter, revisiting episodes from different perspectives in order to re-evaluate them and to gain a purchase on the way their meanings changed over time. L’autre fille (2011) pieces together evidence about her elder sister, Ginette, who had died, aged six, before Annie was born; her parents never told her this and she only learned of it by chance when she overheard her mother speak of it to a neighbour (and observing that Ginette had been “plus gentille” than Annie). La honte (1997) opens with a disturbing memory of her father’s unique act of self-assertive violence – a would-be murderous attack on her mother – and conducts an ethnographical analysis of her childhood and education in the village, as well as an anthropological investigation of the concept of shame. Neither at home nor at school did she receive any sexual education, and her early experiences in this area, first described in the novels, are expanded upon in Mémoire de fille (2016).  The trauma of her abortion, briefly recounted in Les armoires vides, is recalled with painful vividness in L’Évènement (2000). Passion simple (1991) and Se perdre (2001) both document, the latter again in journal form, an affair she had with a Russian diplomat between 1988 and 1990, while L’Occupation (2002) expresses her jealousy at a former lover’s new mistress. Most recently, a very brief text, Le jeune homme (2022), records a liaison with a man thirty years her junior.[1]


Although each book was independently conceived, the whole oeuvre contains internal correspondences, echoes, retrospective clarifications and kaleidoscopic shifts of perspective which bring to mind the relationship between the different parts of À la recherche du temps perdu, with Les Années, although by no means her last book, acting as an equivalent to Le Temps retrouvé.  Proust is explicitly evoked in Les Années and elsewhere in her work, and she has herself noted resemblances between the exhaustive analysis of possessive love and irrational jealousy in Se perdre and L’Occupation and that in Un amour de Swann, La Prisonnière and Albertine disparue. She writes of the last of these, “To grasp the genius of Proust, one has to have lived it”.

Ernaux first came across Proust in school anthologies, and read him intensively as an adult. (Some of her journal entries about Proust appear in the L’Herne volume, together with a helpful essay, “Envers et contre Proust”, by Maya Lavault.) Her reactions were mixed. Proust’s exploration of an individual consciousness – his own, yet not wholly his own – in the context of national events clearly struck a chord. His conception of literary creation as a search, or research (a term she sometimes applies to her own work), rather than representation, was sympathetic, as was his prioritising of sensations over intelligence as the key to understanding of oneself (Les Années, she told Michelle Porte, was “composed solely of memories of sensations”, or perhaps we might translate “sense-impressions”). Syntactically, Proust’s proliferating and exfoliating sentences, which are themselves examples of the propulsion, retrogression, and suspension of temporal rhythm, could hardly be more different from her mature “plate” style. The aristocratic milieu by which Proust was so fascinated made no appeal to her, and she found his treatment of Françoise patronising. (Even if she had no time for the minutiae of the Guermantes family, however, her detailed investigation of village moeurs and idiolect in La honte forms a working-class equivalent.) Most crucially, she dissented from Proust’s belief in a moi profond, existing somehow outside time, to which access could be gained by involuntary memory. She wrote in La honte:

Proust writes to the effect that our memory lies outside us, in a damp breath of wind, the scent of the first autumn fire, etc. – things whose recurrence gives reassurance of the permanence of personhood. To me – and perhaps to all my contemporaries – whose memories are bound up with a summer’s hit record, a fashionable belt, things destined to disappear – memory brings no proof of my permanence or my identity, It makes me feel, it confirms, my fragmentariness and my being historically situated.

In Les Années, Ernaux will coin a remarkable phrase which crystallises this difference from Proust, when, speaking of herself, she writes of ses“moi” – “her ‘mes’”. Les Années, we realise, are also The Annies.

All that said, however, Ernaux is preoccupied throughout her career with the same topics as Proust – time, memory and forgetting, the continuity or loss of identity. The harrowing spectacle of her mother’s experience of Alzheimer’s lent an increased urgency to such questions. They find their central focus in Les Années, which I now move to discussing in more detail.


The structure of the book depends on a kind of counterpoint between the “arrow” of time, moving forward, and the operation of memory, moving back and forth across a continuum (une durée). There is a strong element of Bergsonianism in her outlook, although I am not aware that she has explicitly acknowledged this (of course, she could have absorbed Bergson at second-hand via his influence on Proust). Alternatively, we could frame this animating tension as the relationship between the body, irreversibly ageing, and the mind, able to make connections across time and between times. The voice which speaks is impersonal and representative; je appears, as far as I can see, only once, and even then it does not refer to the author/narrator. For her, as for Rimbaud, “Je” est un autre. The usual pronouns employed are nous and on (which, in fact, can often be translated by “we”), and she habitually refers to herself in the third person, as elle. Thus:

She will make use of the impression made by the world upon her and her contemporaries, to reconstitute a time held in common, which has slipped from so long ago to today – so that, rediscovering the memory of the collective memory in an individual memory, the dimension of History as it was lived can be restored.

Ernaux spoke at length to Michelle Porte about the gestation and technical challenges of Les Années:

I began to think about this book round about the mid-1980s, when I was in my middle forties. I asked myself, what was my life, the life which lay behind me? And I was struck [by the fact that] there was no longer any common ground between the world as it was and that of my childhood, in the 1950s, a world with no home comforts, without television, a world of rigid morality in which contraception didn’t exist. I also felt how quickly time passed; my sons, who I still seemed to see beginning primary school, were already at university, or just about to go there. Asking these questions could only lead to writing [about them]. I went astray, really, I can’t put it any other way, I went astray for years in order to find the form of this book.

Ernaux’s working notebooks, published as L’atelier noir (2nd ed. 2022), confirm that she was wrestling with this material from 1984 onwards, beginning a formal draft only in 2002, and that projected sections of it later detached themselves and became other books. She faced a number of major technical decisions. The first, as she indicates above, was that of the appropriate form. Her initial idea, to write a novel, was quickly abandoned, but what she wanted to write was neither academic history nor traditional autobiography. No formula seemed adequate to the aim of setting her memories of her own life, and the lives of women generally, in the context of French social, political and cultural developments since the Second World War. A straightforward linear account risked being too tidy, falsifying the gradual nature of change, yet some degree of linearity was essential if the processes of change were to be shown.

A possible solution to this problem is considered in a passage, about forty pages from the end of Les Années, which echoes the opening of Du côté de chez Swann, describing a semi-somnolent state in which different past rooms seem to be co-existing in her mind. (Earlier in the book, this is explicitly linked to insomnia.) Time could be thought of as a kind of palimpsest, “in which present and past are superimposed without being interchangeable, where she seems to reassemble fleetingly all the forms taken by the person she has been.” The palimpsest would be, so to speak, her madeleine:

In her projected piece of writing about a woman who has lived from 1940 to the present day, which increasingly possesses her with the regret, even the guilt, at not accomplishing it, she would like this feeling to be the starting-point (no doubt influenced by Proust), out of the need to base her undertaking on her actual experience.

Yet despite the allure of “palimpsestic time” as a concept, she found it an inadequate foundation once she began work in earnest, “leading her nowhere with writing, or to the knowledge of anything whatever.”

Another grammatical decision had to be made. French offers an unusually wide range of tenses for describing events in the past, each of which implies a different stance on the part of the describer and a different degree of “pastness” for the recollection. Ernaux’s workbooks show her frequently agonising over this series of choices in relation to other books. For Les Années she determined on “a continuous imperfect tense,” to create the effect of time slipping or sliding about. In an interview with Pierre Louis-Fort, published in the L’Herne volume, Ernaux laments the fact that so many novels are now written in a continuous present tense, which leads to the sense of history being atrophied. She argues that the abolition of a nuanced past is symptomatic of a time when immediacy has become a way of life. The use of the imperfect in Les Années highlights the elusiveness with which we experience time as durée, our inability to say when x stops and y begins, when un souvenir solidifies to become part of la mémoire.


As well as being individual and collective, memory is also national. The political history of France during this half-century, as Ernaux recounts it, is on the whole a story of disappointed hopes, from the return of De Gaulle in 1958 like a ghost from the past, through the false dawn of the François Mitterand era and the reluctant support for Jacques Chirac’s second term in order to defeat Jean-Marie Le Pen, to the election of Nicholas Sarkozy, which Ernaux contemptuously ascribes to a national “desire for servitude and for obedience to a leader.” In international politics, 9/11 remains an historical turning-point; there is a “before” and “after” that date just as there was in the case of Auschwitz.  As Ernaux put it to Porte:

The book which I had to write was […] about the passage of time, in myself and external to myself. […] When I really applied myself to it, I had to retrace more than fifty years of French life. With my memory of the time, not the memory centred on myself. Because one doesn’t remember oneself in isolation. One remembers oneself in certain situations, in a certain social context. One remembers oneself with people, popular songs, objects, in scenes which mark the passing of time.

As “an ordinary person carried along in the flow of History”, Ernaux would try to “give back the past as it was when it was the present,” to “describe the passage of History in us,” to “capture the reflection projected onto the screen of individual memory by collective history.” Towards the end of Les Années there are some paragraphs which have the same function as the reflections at the end of Le Temps retrouvé, in which the author describes the work to be written (in effect, the work we are reading) as a result of all that he has been through (in effect, all that we have read).  Ernaux writes, still referring to herself in the third person:

The form of her book can therefore emerge from an immersion in the images of her memory, to give in detail the specific features of the age, the years, more or less definite, in which they are formed.

Not even memories, but memories of memories, are what she aims to record. The title, Les Années, which came to her two years before the book was finished, would have no qualifying adjective: “it means that these years can’t be defined or definable. There are only lives which move forward”.

In the end, she decided that the narrative should proceed chronologically, with recurring indications of dates (decades, seasons, even individual days), but that this should be interrupted at regular intervals by descriptions of photographs – the earliest from 1941, the latest from 2006 – which would “freeze” specific temporal moments (once lived, now history) yet also, taken in sequence, provide a pictorial record of change. They are a history of the development of her family down the generations, taking in courtship, marriage, parenthood, divorce and new partners. They show the inescapable enmeshing of individual lives, as well as their development, with children in one photograph becoming parents and grandparents in subsequent items in the series. A similar function is fulfilled by the descriptions of family meals, taking the narrator from being the youngest person at the table to one of the oldest, and bringing together people of different generations with differing remembered pasts. Thus, in the earliest meal described, in the mid-1940s, the adults recall the recently ended war and the Great War, experiences still vivid to them but already sounding like exciting adventures to the children present, and which are evoked with less and less personal significance as those children, grown-up, speak instead of the conflicts in Algeria or Vietnam which they had not known at first-hand. What had been eye-witness testimony at the earliest meal, handed down as a sacred trust born of a “duty to remember,” becomes the stuff of television documentaries, and what survives in the book is not the events, or even memories of the events, but the memory of a conversation about the events.  Around the table in the mid- 1990s, “the past was losing its interest”, until finally, at the meal which takes place in 2005, “The disappearance of the most recent past was astonishing. There was neither reminiscence nor recounting […] In the liveliness of conversational exchanges there wasn’t enough patience for stories”.

Not only is it the memory of war which is transmitted and preserved in this way, but also changing fashions in food, music, dress and a host of other socio-cultural practices. Ernaux had already explored this territory in Journal du dehors (1993) and La vie extérieure (2000) and would pursue it in Regarde les lumières mon amour (2014): all three are sociological diary-scrapbooks recording things seen and heard in public places: on the Métro, in supermarkets, through the media. Behind this lay the work of Bourdieu, with his model of “social fields”, but also, perhaps, that of Barthes in Mythologies; in addition, Ernaux had been particularly struck by Georges Perec’s Les choses (1965), a satirical critique of 1960s consumer society. Few things date so quickly as brand names or advertising slogans, whose recollection, nonetheless, can evoke the atmosphere of a whole era. Ernaux observes how consumerism accelerates change, making the past recede at pace. To pass from cameras with film in them, to digital cameras to I-phone cameras, from Betamax and VHS to DVD, from LPs to CDs to downloadable music, from black-and-white to colour to flatscreen television, from letters to emails to social media, is to be forced to embrace the future almost before it has arrived. Equipment for the new school year is in the shops before the summer holidays have even begun. Eventually, the concept of the seasons itself becomes outmoded: “The rapidly jumping click of the mouse on the screen was the measure of time […] not to move on any more is to accept that one is growing old.” “The search for Time past” – Ernaux actually writes la recherche du temps perdu – is now carried out on the Web. Because everything is available, “memory has become inexhaustible” but “the depth of Time” has disappeared; “one was living in an eternal present.” Digital archives constitute a new kind of past, “fluid, with a weak grasp of real memories […] The proliferation of the traces we had left was doing away with the sensation of Time passing.” We have been “resuscitated in advance” for future generations; “the processes of remembering and forgetting were undertaken by the media.” Not only our individuality but the whole nature of our existence is being altered, and the arrival of AI (too recent to be noted in Les Années) will do nothing to retard the process. We inhabit “the time of things” (my italics), in “a world of objects without subjects.”


The “ses moi” of Les Années occupy a place in the wider history of French womanhood over half a century. Ernaux’s novels had documented, in often brutally frank detail, the ways in which the shaping influences of home, school, and community inculcated in impressionable girls an ideal of romance, marriage, and wifely and motherly duty, which effectively crushed their spirit and repressed their self-expression. At the same time, Ernaux is no card-carrying feminist. “I’m not a woman who writes,” she insisted to Michelle Porte, “I’m someone who writes.” Like others of her generation, she read Simone de Beauvoir, but found her novels over-constructed, and there were few footholds for her in Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée: one adjective that cannot be applied to Ernaux is rangée! Rather than that, Ernaux saw herself as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, or as the heroine of Jane Eyre, fiercely independent, free-spirited women asserting themselves in a male world. Beauvoir was important, nonetheless, for her documentation, in Le deuxième sexe, of the ways in which women were conditioned to conform to stereotypes imposed upon them not only by men, but also by other women.

In Ernaux’s childhood and early adolescence, as in her novels, “Sex was the great subject of suspicion to a society which saw its signs everywhere.” At home, at school and in church the virtues of chastity and pre-marital virginity were ceaselessly exalted. Yet rumour and gossip about sexual matters abounded among the girls themselves, hinting at a dark world of abortions and illegitimacy beneath the genteel social façade. As an adolescent, kept on a tight rein, Ernaux was desperate to impress her sophisticated contemporaries, to have her own “style”, and was attracted by the audacities of Existentialism, but remained an idealist. “She is all sentiment”, she observed of her younger self; “Sex and love are completely separated.” This last sentence was proved sadly true in 1958 when, away from home for the first time, as a supervisor at a summer camp, she had her initiatory sexual experience at the hands of a rough and selfish man. “It’s not to him that she submits,” she wrote of this in Mémoire de fille, “it’s to an unquestionable, universal law, that of a male savagery to which she would have had to give in one day or another.” As a lycée student, she was still dependent on second-hand information about sexuality, gleaned from the Kinsey Report or the clandestine family planning clinics. In these circumstances, “To have read Simone de Beauvoir was of no use except to confirm what a misfortune it was to have a uterus.” The onset of puberty, for which she had longed (because then she would be a “real” woman) but for which she was ill-prepared, created a second, specifically female, time zone, that of the monthly cycle, in competition with the rhythms of daily life.

Her decision to have an abortion in 1964 indicated a refusal to be tied down, yet only five months later she married, putting herself on a conveyor belt which was seemingly irreversible. Throughout her twenties, as she scaled the career ladder of teaching – both a weapon against male condescension and a passport to economic independence – she felt herself to be in a No-Woman’s-Land, equally alienated from her parents’ world and from the bourgeoisie to which, like it or not, she now belonged. The competing demands of career and domestic life (including bringing up two sons) left her no time to herself. These were frustrations she shared with countless other women, for whom the student revolts of 1968 seemed to inaugurate “the first year of the world” in which “in a single month we made up for years.” Taboos and sacred cows were at an end, Germaine Greer and Kate Millett were the lodestars. It seemed that women need no longer feel inferior to men, or have an obligation to be grateful to them, or apologise for their own existence and rights. Yet Ernaux, twenty-eight by this point, felt she had missed out; she had been born too early. The generation of les événements was that of her successors, ten years her juniors.

In her thirties and early forties, from 1970 until her separation from her husband in 1982, she became established as a writer, a more satisfying means of self-expression than the teaching which was more a means to an end than a vocation (but which, nonetheless, she continued, at the French equivalent of the Open University, until retirement). She continued to envy the young for their casual attitude to cohabitation, while juggling the needs of a household which, for three years, included her mother as well as her husband and sons. In society at large, sexual appetites among those in their forties were waning, as couples watched pornography on Canal+, and learned “techniques” for bringing about physical reactions which had occurred spontaneously twenty years earlier. Freed from her marriage, she began a relationship with a younger man which rejuvenated her, and she looked sadly at women going through the menopause. Her body underwent a kind of private sexual revolution. Yet, as she herself hit forty, it seemed that women were more fetishised than ever by society. Feminism came to be seen as

a vindictive and humourless outmoded ideology which young women no longer needed, upon which they could look condescendingly, in no doubt of their power and equal status. […] “Thank you, men, for loving women” was the headline in a women’s magazine. Their struggles were forgotten, the only memory not to be officially revived. […] We who had had abortions in kitchens, who had divorced, who had believed that our efforts to liberate ourselves would help others, were possessed by a great weariness. We no longer knew whether the female revolution had happened.

As the years passed, Ernaux became increasingly aware that, just as each generation is in transition between its predecessors and successors, so each person is in transition between their earlier and future selves. Standing in a supermarket queue, sometime in the early 1990s, she reflected:

She sees herself here, in ten or fifteen years’ time, her trolley full of confectionery and toys for grandchildren who aren’t yet born. That woman seems as unlikely to her as, to the twenty-five-year-old girl, was the forty-year-old woman who she couldn’t even imagine being one day, and whom she no longer is.

That last sentence telescopes the passage of time backwards and forwards with striking effect.

When, in due course, she became a grandmother, newspapers were reporting women giving birth at sixty, and facelifts were abolishing the signs of ageing, while old ladies in care homes stared at TV advertisements for things they never knew they needed, and which it was too late now for them to have. Society had turned inwards, valuing “Who I am” (self-defined) above “What I do”, yet, ironically, “it was more and more difficult to find a phrase for oneself.” There was still no safe lodging-point, no time (in any sense of the word) which she feels she can call hers. At the last recorded family meal, of 2005, surrounded by people in their forties who still seem like teenagers, and by their children, she felt like the head of some ancestral tribe, “failing to realise that one was a grandparent, as if that label were permanently applied to one’s own grandparents, a sort of essence which was unchanged by their disappearance.” At sixty-six, regarded as elderly by women in their fifties, she realises how her concept of time has changed: as a teenager, she felt she was developing with incredible speed in a static world, whereas now it was she who was immobile in a world which is changing all around her. There is a faint echo here of Proust’s narrator at the bal des têtes in Le Temps retrouvé, returning to Paris to find his old friends and acquaintances altered out of recognition. “What has changed the most in her is her perception of time, of her own situation in time.” Les Années is a salvage operation, “to save something”, as the closing words have it, “from the time where one will never be again”.

In a valuable essay on Les Années, included in the L’Herne collection, Bruno Blanckeman points out that Ernaux refuses to give a teleological shape to history, or to endorse the Enlightenment concept of progress towards a utopia. Instead, history is, in Blanckeman’s words, “unfinished”, reflecting the “fluidity of the self” and its inextricability from the external world.  At the beginning and the end of Les Années there are several pages of brief, discrete recollections: scenes from films, dreams, news items, turns of speech, passers-by glimpsed in the street, travel memories. The body of the text, despite its more coherent organisation, possesses only a precarious stability. In the end, the years are at best, in T. S. Eliot’s phase, fragments shored against one’s ruin.



[1] All Ernaux’s work up to and including Les Années – with the exception of Ce qu’ils disent ou rien – appears in Écrire la vie, an omnibus volume in Gallimard’s “Quarto” series (2011). Later texts have appeared in single volumes.  To my knowledge, only L’atelier noir and Le vrai lieu remain untranslated, although I have made my own translations throughout this essay.