The Years by Annie Ernaux (translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer, Man Booker International Prize 2019): Addendum

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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.

and

Only teachers were allowed to ask questions. If we did not understand a word or explanation, the fault was ours.

and

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.

or

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.

Paris in July 2018

This is not an official button for Paris in July; I just happened to like this black and white photo of a woman sitting peacefully by the river. “What is it,” I ask myself, “that she is absorbed in reading on such a quiet day?”

For there is a wealth of literature from which she could choose. As for me, I am currently absorbed in Annie Ernaux’ The Years, which won the 2016 Strega European Prize and the 2018 French-American Foundation Translation Prize. (It is truly spectacular.)

And within my stacks we find treasures to be devoured such as these:

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, about a young woman who moved into an apartment in Paris and discovered a storage room of belongings left by the previous owner, all of which Clara documented on Twitter;

nyrb classics such as Like Death by Guy de Maupassant, or Act of Passion by Georges Simenon;

Or, My Heart Hemmed In by Marie Ndaiye.

Each choice holds promise of beautiful writing, stories revealed, and a French atmosphere to absorb. I am eager for July.

And you? What are you reading for Paris in July?