The Nobel Literature Prize for Fiction was given to French novelist Annie Ernaux on Thursday. Annie Ernaux is renowned for her deceptively straightforward books that draw on personal experience of class and gender.
Ernaux, 82, received recognition from the judges “for the boldness and clinical clarity with which she unearths the origins, estrangements, and collective restrictions of personal memory.”
The feminist icon described it as a “very tremendous honour” and “a great responsibility” in an interview that she gave to Swedish television just after the announcement.
Her more than 20 books—many of which have been taught in French classrooms for years—provide one of the most nuanced, perceptive windows into the social life of contemporary France.
Women have been significantly underrepresented in the history of the awards, with Ernaux being the second of the eight Nobel laureates honoured so far this year.
Ernaux’s voice, according to French President Emmanuel Macron, is “that of the emancipation of women and of the forgotten.”
Ernaux is the creator of the French “autofiction” genre, which gives real-life experience a narrative shape and draws entirely from personal experiences.
The passage she made from a working-class girl to a member of the literary elite is most prominently traced in her crystalline prose, which also casts a critical eye on societal norms and her own nuanced emotions.
The Swedish Academy stated that Ernest continually analyses a life “characterised by substantial differences regarding gender, language, and class” from many perspectives.
The “special voice”
The statement read, “Her work is tough and written in scrappy, clear English.” “And when she describes the embarrassment, humiliation, jealousy, or inability to understand who you are while speaking with tremendous courage and clinical acuity, she has accomplished something wonderful and enduring.”
Anders Olsson, the head of the Nobel Committee, stated that the Academy was impressed with her “frankness.” “You never forget her because she is direct and succinct. She has a very distinctive voice, and that is extremely peculiar to her,” he remarked.
Ernaux had been considered “for many years,” he told the Swedish news agency TT.
In 1974, she made her literary debut with the book Cleaned Out, a cool-eyed but horrifying account of an abortion she had undergone as a student but had kept a secret from her family.
Her creative breakthrough, however, came with the publication of her fourth novel, A Man’s Place from 1983, a detached portrayal of her father and the social environment that shaped him.
A Lady’s Story, which she later wrote about her mother in 1987, was praised by the Academy for its “beautiful tribute to a strong woman” and “strict brevity.”
Outside of France, recognition has only just emerged, most notably following the 2019 Man Booker International Prize nomination of her important 2008 book The Years in English. Ernaux explored the effects of significant historical events and recalled her own life using both family photos and bits of popular culture.
At the Venice Film Festival last year, the movie The Happening, which is based on another account of her abortion from 2000, received the Golden Lion.
A medal and 10 million Swedish kronor ($911,400) are awarded as part of the Nobel Prize.
On December 10, the anniversary of the scientist Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896, who established the prizes in his final will and testament, Ernaux will receive the honour from King Carl XVI Gustaf during a ceremony in Stockholm.
Since the first Nobel Prize in literature was given in 1901, there have been 119 laureates, and Ernaux is the 17th woman.
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