Again as in 1985, when the Swedish Academy awarded that year’s Nobel Prize for Literature to Claude Simon, a hitherto unknown French author, the Swedish Academy has in 2022 repeated the feat of selecting largely unknown literary figures for the prize.
Annie Ernaux, 82, a French author has won the 2022 Nobel prize in literature.
The French author of mostly autobiographical work has become the newest Nobel laureate in literature.
The prize in literature has been handed out to Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”.
Ernaux, who writes novels about daily life in France as well as non fiction and is one of her country’s most acclaimed authors, had been among the favourites to win the prize. The Nobel said that they had not yet “been able to reach Annie Ernaux on the phone”, but expected to be able to speak to her soon.
Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, said that in her work, “Ernaux consistently and from different angles, examines a life marked by strong disparities regarding gender, language and class”.
Ernaux was born in 1940 and grew up in the small town of Yvetot in Normandy. She studied at Rouen University, and later taught at secondary school. From 1977 to 2000, she was a professor at the Centre National d’Enseignement par Correspondance. Olsson said her “path to authorship was long and arduous”.
Her debut was Les armoires vides, published in 1974 in France and as Cleaned Out in English in 1990. It was her fourth book, La place or A Man’s Place, that was her literary breakthrough.
A Man’s Place and A Woman’s Story, which was originally published in 1988 in French, have become contemporary classics in France. Ernaux won the Prix Renaudot in France in 2008 for her autobiography The Years, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019 when it was translated into English by Alison L Strayer.
Ankita Chakraborty in the Guardian said Ernaux’s Getting Lost, a book recording her obsessive affair with a Russian diplomat, would “become a kind of totem for lovers: a manual to help them find their centre when, like Ernaux, they are lost in love”.
Chakraborty wrote: “The quality that distinguishes Ernaux’s writing on sex from others in her milieu is the total absence of shame. Desire in her brings forth more desire, the impulse of death, happiness, and even past trauma, like her abortion, but never humiliation. Reading her is to thoroughly purge yourself of the notion that shame could be a possible outcome of wanting sex.”
Olson said Ernaux “manifestly believes in the liberating force of writing”.
“Her work is uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean,” he continued. “And when she with great courage and clinical acuity reveals the agony of the experience of class, describing shame, humiliation, jealousy or inability to see who you are, she has achieved something admirable and enduring.”