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France 24
France 24

French novelist, memoirist Annie Ernaux wins Nobel Prize for Literature

French writer Annie Ernaux, awarded with the 2019 Formentor Prix, speaks during the Guadalajara International Book Fair, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on December 4, 2019. © Ulises Ruiz, AFP

French author Annie Ernaux won the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature "for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory", the award-giving body said on Thursday.

Ernaux, whose work is mostly autobiographical, is 82.

The prize is awarded by the Swedish Academy and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($914,704).

In explaining its choice, the Academy said Ernaux "consistently and from different angles, examines a life marked by strong disparities regarding gender, language and class".

Her debut novel was "Les Armoires Vides" in 1974 but she gained international recognition following the publication of "Les Années" in 2008, translated into "The Years" in 2017.

"It is her most ambitious project, which has given her an international reputation and a raft of followers and literary disciples," the Academy said of that book.

"I consider this to be a great honour for me and at the same time a great responsibility, a responsibility given to me," Ernaux told Swedish public broadcaster SVT moments after the prize was announced.

‘Collective and intimate memory of our country’

Ernaux is the 17th woman among the 119 Nobel literature laureates and is the first French literature laureate since Patrick Modiano in 2014.

One of France's most-garlanded authors and a prominent feminist voice, Ernaux’s autobiographical books explore deeply personal experiences and feelings – love, sex, abortion, shame – within a changing web of social and class relationships. Much of her material came out of her experiences of being raised in a working-class family in the Normandy region of northwest France.

President Emmanuel Macron joined several French political and literary figures in congratulating Ernaux. “For 50 years, Annie Ernaux has been writing the novel of the collective and intimate memory of our country,” said Macron in a Twitter post. “She joins the great circle of Nobel Prize winners of French literature.”

Ernaux describes her style as “flat writing” — aiming for an very objective view of the events she is describing, unshaped by florid description or overwhelming emotions.

She worked as a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. Her first book was “Cleaned Out” in 1974. Two more autobiographical novels followed – “What They Say Goes” and “The Frozen Woman” – before she moved to more overtly autobiographical books.

In the book that made her name, “La Place” (A Man’s Place), published in 1983 and about her relationship with her father, she writes: “No lyrical reminiscences, no triumphant displays of irony. This neutral writing style comes to me naturally.”

“Shame,” published in 1997, explored a childhood trauma, while “Happening,” from 2000 depicts an illegal abortion.

Her most critically acclaimed book is “The Years,” published in 2008, which described herself and wider French society from the end of World War II to the 21st century. Unlike in previous books, in “The Years,” Ernaux wrote in the third person, calling her character “she” rather than “I”. The book received numerous awards and honours.

Media attention, book sales

While many previous literature winners were already widely read before landing the prize, the Nobel prize generates huge media attention and can catapult lesser known authors to global fame while spurring book sales even for literary superstars.

Some prizes have gone to writers from outside mainstream literary genres, including French philosopher Henri Bergson in 1927, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1953 and American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2016.

Accurately predicting the winner of the literature award is educated guesswork at best and favourites to win this year's prize included a string of authors who have been considered to be high in the running for years.

Among the bookies' favourites for this year's prize were French writer Michel Houellebecq, who gained international fame with his 1998 novel Atomised, Kenya's Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Canadian poet Anne Carson and India-born Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie was stabbed in New York state in August as he was preparing to deliver a lecture, sustaining serious injuries. Last year's prize, widely seen as the world's most prestigious literary award, was won by Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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