A woman’s story by Annie Ernaux


A Woman’s story by Annie Ernaux

French fiction

Original title – Une Femme

Translator – Tanya Leslie

Source – Review copy

Sometimes you get set a book like this one ,I was asked if I wanted to review this one and said yes ,half and half wherever it would be one for me ,but I always feel a few more female writers in translation on the blog is a welcome thing and also a surprise gem is great  ,which this book was .Annie Ernaux ,started writing in the mid seventies ,but really hit her stride in the mid eighties with the book La Place ,which won the Prix Renaudot in 1984 ,this book saw the writer turn the light on herself (and we thought Knausgaard was new ) .This is very much a book in the French Auto fiction style ,with the writers life as material for their  fiction .

It’s a difficult undertaking .For me , my mother has no history .She has always been there .When I speak of her , my first impulse is to “freeze ” her in a series of images unrelated to time – “she had a violent temper ”

As annie starts to unpick her mothers past and her own childhood ,

A woman’s story is the story of a mother and daughter ,Annie Ernaux is the daughter and the book starts as she leaves the home here mother was lived into until she dies .As Annie starts to process her mother’s death over the days and weeks that pass she tell us her story and her mother’s story .Her mother had lived most of her life in the same village never moving far from there .Her daughter couldn’t at the time understand this but now looking back now see her mother was more than the sum of the part she saw and knew .It’s a heartfelt story of how we try to not be our parents and maybe hate what they are but in the end they are more than they seem .

After a while , she grew accustomed to her lifestyle , channelling her energy and her enthusiasm towards looking after her grandsons and helping to clean the house .She wanted to relieve me of all the household chores .

In later life she doted on her grand-kids.

This book is a perfect example of what simple writing can do well and that is drag you into a world ,there are no fireworks of style or over the top description .Because it didn’t need it this is like an unplugged session in music the writing stripped to the simplest style as the clarity of the narrative draws you as the reader in .This is the book equivalent of Bon iver or Laura Veirs confessional heart wrenching stuff .Annie Ernaux Talks about her in this book Giving birth to her mother and she does ,she makes her mother leap of the page ,this women from a large family the same as her father ,married but stayed in the same village ,but after her marriage with her husband built a business ,this maybe effect her childhood ,but now looking back the daughter can see how much more her mother working and giving her a great start ,that she didn’t see at the time ,then the doting grandmother and the end of her life .This reminded  me in some ways of Stones in a landslide ,my favourite book from Peirene press as it did what that did so well as well and that is bring a life to life  on the page ,but not in a huge tomb ala Proust or Knausgaard .Well done to Quartet for bring this back out lost gems like this need to be kept alive in print .

Have you read this book ?

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David Simmons
    Apr 16, 2014 @ 16:52:00

    Yes, I read it along with a group of young women at Wellesley College in a French course entitled “Novels of the Self.” The book was well received and evoked considerable discussion. The mother-daughter interplay was interesting to me as a male, husband, and father of three daughters.


  2. Col
    Apr 16, 2014 @ 17:00:20

    Not read this but if it is the literary equivalent of Bon Iver, who I love, then will add to my list to check out.


  3. Scott W.
    Apr 16, 2014 @ 18:23:36

    This book is a perfect example of what simple writing can do well and that is drag you into a world

    Stu, I agree completely. While I haven’t been as enthusiastic about Ernaux’s later works, her two slim books about her parents are indeed gems. La Place (translated into English as A Man’s Place) is, I think, even better, and has become for me a kind of go-to, ideal example of this style of very tight, economical-to-the-point-of-frugality writing that can nonetheless “drag you into a world.”


  4. Caroline
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 08:00:55

    I like Annie Ernaux very much. And I like your comparison to Bon Iver. True.
    Thanks for a lovely review. Puts me in the mood to grab my unread copies.


  5. The Little Reader Library
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 15:32:17

    This sounds lovely Stu I am going to look it up now. I’ve not read nearly enough translated fiction lately but my reading as a whole is going really slowly.


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April 2014


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