On the last cover of her novel The Years (the Folio series for the Pocket Book), the French writer Annie Ernault says, for short, the following sentence: “It is a new form of impersonal and collective autobiography.” This sentence may exert magic and influence on us, in the sense that it prompts us to think deeply about what the writer is trying to do, but the “content” of the novel, in fact, seems more complex. As this Erno book carries with it, as it were, two or more books.
There is a beginning, the book of the past tense. The book in which we find that the literary act carries the sensations of the beginning of life. In this section, which dates back to the 1940s and 1950s, Ernaud talks about the old women of Lillebon – and the little girl she was – exactly in the manner of Jacques Brel when he sang about the sailors of Amsterdam, I mean this mixture that stands at a distance from The subject as Tqsmh at the same time. These old people who make up a large segment of French society: parents, grandparents, relatives, neighbors, etc… Apart from the diversity of regions, we may find that they also constitute that European segment, and why not this general human segment. But despite all this, we have to be aware that they are, above all, the people of its region, in Normandy, its people who live in it, who live outside it, who shape the past and the present as well thanks to this nostalgic evocation of the forms and details that envelop the space with its contents. Through this narrative, reality returns to find its rights as it is not a matter of sheltering behind easy and “wrong” words – such as “rural world”, “modernization”, “education”, “feminism”, “social ascension” – but rather of going straight. To the same things: the women who put coffee mills between their legs, and the chickens to be slaughtered, also speak of advertisements, the songs of words that remain in our memory, and that we repeat without noticing it often.
Things speak for themselves, in Annie Ernault’s book, so the author can know how to receive them. Things that tell us about the past time, about the world that no longer exists, and despite its extinction, it becomes an exceptional, unfamiliar world. This world that we look at and that looks at us, that accuses us of our strangeness and abnormality, this strangeness that lies in our salvation from extinction itself.
This whole world that Erno is recreating seems painful, terrifying, and yet it exists. It is the realm of existence and being. This is what makes us, in the end, listen to this sad and entertaining enumeration of the thousands of sensory details on which this “drama” is based. All the drama written by Erno resides in the details, in the same tragedy without a doubt, but in reality it is nothing but a collection of fugitive details, like soap bubbles that do not delay in disappearing. Perhaps that is why these pages seem to be among the most beautiful, in-depth pages of the book, filled more than others with this human spirit, with its flesh and fat as well.
The aforementioned does not seem to constitute the only element of the book “The Years”, as the author also tends to show this canvas on which the events of her childhood and youth were drawn: there is Tito, Prague, Allende, and the Common Left Program … a synthesis similar to a song by Billy Joel. There is another life that makes room for itself in this section of the book – which we could consider a second book – a life that is condensed in this material formed by the two pronouns “I and we” that do not stop penetrating the book through their conversations: the voice of the youth period, the voice of the left, that voice Which was prevalent before all things fell into absolute delusion. Perhaps there are many French readers, who are over sixty, who may find themselves in this speech, and perhaps also some other leftists, from other countries, if we consider that there was a “harmony between generations” that prevailed in that era. An era that returns to us with all its “tears” and “memory”, but it can still capture us – at least through nostalgia for those ideas – although the writer actually tends to write “the abnormal” in “aspiration to say this associated era.” At some age”, that is, in the end, it constitutes a kind of process of “separating the soul from the body.”
The decline in the book “The Years” begins with the “patriarchal years”, that is, after the election of Mitterrand as President of France, a decline that Ernault refers to by saying that she no longer knows how to speak or think, not as an object, but has become more like television. A period that made her search for a “second left” lost in a world she no longer understood, so she moved away from every commitment to sink into a state of vertigo that she no longer knew how to get rid of. Perhaps this is a great state of old age that afflicts the words and the writer naturally, an old age that we recognize through her inability to get rid of this tide of words that sweeps her text, as it never belongs to the writer’s language to which we are accustomed and which the Arno reader cannot ignore. Ordinary words, tedious, slipping out of place, words referring to the turns and torment of the soul, to common places that you do not know how to distinguish between them, words that come out of them while they are full of fatigue, i. This black tide of the “age of communication”.
“All this world, which Erno revives, seems a painful, terrifying world, and yet it exists. It is the world of existence and being. And this is what makes us listen in the end to this sad, entertaining enumeration of thousands of sensual details on which this “drama” is based.”
We can, after reading “The Years” go back and recall other books by Ernault, such as “The Square”, “A Simple Passion” and others, in order to compare them, in order to evaluate an “account inventory”, in order to “analyse” them. But let’s take her current book in its uniqueness and what it is. From here let us ask the following question: What does the book offer us in depth? Perhaps it is an adventure for a unique autobiographical project that ends unexpectedly, that is, we might describe it as “Fragments of an Informative Discourse” (if we play on the title of Roland Barthes’ book “Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse”). That is, we are not facing a personal or impersonal project. There is a strange path between the pronoun “we” (Nous), the emotionally existential one that captures the living ghosts of a bygone childhood, and the pronoun (On), the present one, which has died, as a result of this media machine and its absurd sophistry.--
Nevertheless, there is a bet and a risk that Erno takes in this book. First of all, she really believes that television discourse was able, from the seventies and eighties, to form a “culture”, that is, to say its era and really refer to it, that is, witness to it and dissolve in it. From here, if we give Erno the right to do so, it means that society is nothing but a herd that is formed according to the requirements of the small screen, and that literature – very simply – no longer has any meaning in continuing to exist, because “real literature” and the true voice of our time did not Only longer newscasts.
Is this what Erno meant? Perhaps there is doubt about that, as another reading must lead us to consider that what you write is nothing but a painful and sad cry, a cry of literature that was skipped by satellite channels. So her book looks like a letter for help, even though the letter she wrote and put in a bottle has landed on the shore of … meaninglessness.
I think we must, in this urgency, return to what Erno said on the last cover that her book is a new form of autobiography. In fact, the novel “The Years” – like most of Ernault’s books – belongs to what has been known since 1977, in French writing, as the trend of “self-imagining” (a designation used by writer Serge Dubrovsky to describe his book “Son”). The term consists of the prefix auto (from Greek αὐτός: “self”) and fantasy. Autobiographical literature is a literary genre that is defined by an “oxymoron” or “paradoxical pact” that connects two opposing types of narrative: it is a story based, like an autobiography, on the principle of three identities (the author is also the narrator and the main character), which it nonetheless claims to be Fictional in its narrative methods and in the claims of the text (title, back cover, etc.). It is also called the “personal narrative”. It is clearly a cross between a true story of the author’s life and a fictional story that explores his experience.
In this sense, the novel falls into this “broad movement” of autofiction literature, that is, in the “derivatives” of autobiography, and the multiplicity of forms it covers, especially in that direction that is shaped by its interest in the form of human life. Whatever the degree of this imagining, we find that this life represented in writing deserves to be narrated through its symbolic or even statistical character: it can, to a large extent, tell about the lives of others, about “every life”, even if writing resorts to the first person. There are many examples of this, and I mean what we find in the novels of Emmanuel Carrere, Camille Lawrence, Michel Desbordis, Philippe Forest, and in the recent books of Pierre Goyota, and many others. What can be said is that the literature of these people – including Annie Ernault, of course – makes literature a tool of knowledge about life, and the possibility of presenting a personal experience exposed to forms of experience that will not be available to us except through literature, simply because it is unknown to us, completely imperceptible, for us, because we did not live it. Hence, one of the possible readings, through the experience of “self-imagination” that the French writer presents to us, is her interest in sociology and class affiliation. Its uniqueness opens up to the collective dimension… Although the writer reverts to focusing at the end of her fictional discourse on her own images, that is, on her sentence that singled her out for her place in the world of the contemporary French novel. She returns and forms her own atmosphere, to conclude the book with. A conclusion may give us one last hope that the story of “The Years” is nothing but a project to write “fabricated” feelings that we find today in the entire world. Certainly, like most of Ernault’s books, The Years is worth a read.
Lebanese writer and translator: Two books by Annie Ernault have been translated into Arabic: “The Occupation” and “A Simple Passion” (published by “Al-Jamal Publications”).