By Justyna Pawlak, Simon Johnson and Elizabeth Pineau
STOCKHOLM/PARIS (Reuters) – French author Annie Ernaux won the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday for “the courage and clinical acumen” of her largely autobiographical books examining personal memory and social inequality.
In explaining its choice, the Swedish Academy said Ernaux, 82, “examines cohesively and from different perspectives a life marked by stark disparities in gender, language and class.”
Ernaux, the first French woman to win the literature prize, said the prize was “huge”.
She has already said that writing is a political act, opening our eyes to social inequalities. “And to that end, she uses language as ‘a knife,’ as she calls it, to tear the veils of the imagination,” the academy said.
Her first novel was “Les Armoires Vides” in 1974 but she gained international recognition following the publication of “Les Années” in 2008, translated into English as “The Years” in 2017.
“It is his most ambitious project, which has earned him an international reputation and a host of literary followers and disciples,” the academy said of this book.
By substituting in his story “spontaneous memory of oneself in the third person of collective memory”, says the academy of the “Years”, Ernaux merges personal and collective memory.
Born into a modest family of grocers from Normandy in northern France, Ernaux writes in a frank and direct style about class and how it struggled to adopt the codes and habits of the French bourgeoisie while remaining faithful to its working environment.
“She’s come a long way in her life,” Swedish Academy member Anders Olsson told Reuters. “She’s a brave woman.”
A film adaptation of Ernaux’s 2000 novel “Happening”, about his experiences with abortion when it was still illegal in France in the 1960s, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2021.
“I never imagined at the time that 22 years later the right to abortion would be called into question,” Ernaux told reporters in Paris. “Until my last breath, I will fight for the right of women to choose whether they want to be a mother or not.”
Ernaux also referred to the political power conquered by the far right in European countries in recent years, saying that “the far right in history has never been favorable to women”.
The academy said his “clinically restrained account” of the abortion of a 23-year-old female narrator remains a masterpiece among his works.
“It is a text of ruthless honesty, where she parenthetically adds reflections in a vitally lucid voice, addressing herself and the reader in one and the same flow,” the academy said.
Jason Whittaker, head of English and journalism at the University of Lincoln in Britain, said the prize should bring more attention to the genre of female autobiography, “which is very often overlooked in this which is still a male-dominated sphere”.
Like when Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 prize, the recognition given to Ernaux’s work would attract readers in English, he said.
“She was a very important contributor in terms of memoirs and autobiographical works,” Whittaker told Reuters. “In terms of contributing to world literature, it’s really important to put innovation and interesting techniques in women’s memoirs at the center of literary writing.”
Seven Stories Press, Ernaux’s US publisher for 31 years, said it published the English translation of her most recent book, ‘Getting Lost’, just two days before she won the Nobel Prize, and is now rushing many of his titles in the background to print.
Seven Stories Press editor Dan Simon said in a statement that Ernaux “has stood up for herself as a woman, as a person from the working class of France, without bowing, for decades.”
In choosing Ernaux, he said, the Swedish Academy had made the courageous choice of “someone who writes shamelessly about her sex life, about women’s rights and about her experience and sensitivity as a woman. “.
Former French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot wrote on Twitter that Ernaux is “a writer who has placed the autobiographical mode in her cold analytical analysis at the heart of her career. One may disagree with her political options but we must salute a powerful and moving work”.
A NOBEL “BADGE”
The prizes for achievement in science, literature and peace were created in the will of Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel, whose invention of dynamite made him rich and famous, and are awarded since 1901.
The prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($915,000).
The award, widely regarded as the world’s most prestigious literary prize, was won last year by Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah.
Some prizes have been awarded to writers outside of traditional literary genres, including French philosopher Henri Bergson in 1927, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1953 and American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2016.
Readers in France said they were waiting for Ernaux to win. “It seems rather acquired”, says Marie Roisson, 48 years old. “What I liked in the works of Annie Ernaux – is the work she did on becoming – to manage to fit into another place in a society from which she did not come. , and despite the difficulty, to succeed.”
Ernaux suggested winning was a mixed blessing.
“I always said I didn’t want to receive the Nobel Prize,” she told reporters from the office of her French publisher Gallimard.
“Because once you get it, after that you still have that badge attached to your name, and I’m afraid that might mean you don’t evolve once your statue is made.”
(Reporting by Simon Johnson, Niklas Pollard and Johan Ahlander in Stockholm, Terje Solsvik in Oslo and Justyna Pawlak in WarsawAdditional reporting by Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Elizabeth Pineau, Jean-Michel Belot, Geert De Clercq, Manuel Ausloos and Tassilo Hummel in Paris , Jonathan Allen in New York and Marie Mannes in GdanskWriting by Justyna PawlakEditing by Nick Macfie, Frances Kerry and Sandra Maler)