The Years Annie Ernaux
Considered by many to be the iconic French memoirist’s defining work, The Years is a narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present, photos, books, songs, radio, television, advertising, and news headlines. Local dialect, words of the times, slogans, brands and names for ever-proliferating objects are given voice here. The voice we recognize as the author’s continually dissolves and re-emerges as Annie Ernaux makes the passage of time palpable. Time itself, inexorable, narrates its own course, consigning all other narrators to anonymity. A new kind of autobiography emerges, at once subjective and impersonal, private and collective.
On its 2008 publication in France, The Years came as a surprise. Though Ernaux had for years been hailed as a beloved, bestselling and award-winning author, this was in many ways a departure: both an intimate memoir ‘written’ by entire generations, and a story of generations telling a very personal story. Like the generation before hers, the narrator eschews the ‘I’ for the ‘we’ (‘on’ in French) as if collective life were inextricably intertwined with a private life that in her parents’ generation ceased to exist. In inventing a new genre – the collective autobiography – Annie Ernaux has written a genuine, genre-bending masterpiece which cements her place as one of our greatest memoirists.