I have begun this book several times and been impressed until I get halfway through. There are brilliant insights into life in France, life in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the life of a girl growing up in such a time frame. Consider these quotes:
Religion was the sole font of morality. It bestowed human dignity, without which our lives would resemble those of dogs.
Only teachers were allowed to ask questions. If we did not understand a word or explanation, the fault was ours.
The future is too immense for her to imagine. It will happen, that’s all.
Annie Ernaux explores memory, both hers, her family’s, and even the world’s at large. “Where were you,” she asks, “on September 11, 2001?”
I love these quotes regarding our memories:
Like sexual desire, memory never stops. It pairs the dead with the living, real with imaginary beings, dreams with history.
They were saddled with other people’s memories and a secret nostalgia for the time they’d missed by so little, along with the hope of living it one day…
But. Halfway through this memoir, a piece which was the co-winner of the 2019 French-American Foundation Translation Prize in Nonfiction, yet was included in the Man Booker International Prize which awards the “best, eligible full-length novel”, I became so weary I had to lay it down. Endless streams of observations like this, pertinent as some may be, became exhausting to read.
Clearly the official judges, and the members of the Shadow Jury, do not agree with me. They have given reason, plausible I’m sure, as to why The Years should be included as a piece of fiction. Perhaps that is all that needs to be said: our memories are not fully real.
Do not be surprised to see this on the Shadow Jury’s short list, nor, I dare say, on the official short list. It just won’t be on mine.
(Thanks to Fitzcarraldo Editions for a copy of The Years to review.)
Addendum: After reading this interview with The Guardian, my dislike for The Years became clearer to me. Because I am a stranger in this world, more often than not having an opinion directly opposite of the mainstream, the interview with Annie Ernaux made me sad. I see her as an angry, hurt woman, and her book seems to further the anger of women (in the current #MeToo trend). She does not speak for me. I love men; I love being protected and honored by men such as my father, my husband and my son. Some of my greatest friends are men, and I find the disparaging of men despicable. I feel sorry for her life’s frustrations, but they are not anything I feel personally. Nor do I feel they should be upheld in our society. Do the feminists really want a world run by women? I shudder at the thought.