Annie Ernaux in Mini-Reviews

Annie Ernaux in Mini-ReviewsTitle: Exteriors
Author: Annie Ernaux
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Starting in 1985, Annie Ernaux began journaling her observations of daily life to make sense of her new home in the Paris suburbs. This collection contains entries through 1992, was published in ’93, and translated into English in ’96.

The author begins by explaining that her intention is to serve as an objective recorder, writing down the plain facts of what she sees. She also immediately acknowledges that she failed to accomplish that. I agree that she didn’t achieve perfect objectivity. There are clear themes in the scenes that catch her attention – interactions between people of different classes, train rides and grocery store visits, and how we value art. Sometimes she’s clearly imagining people’s motivations. However she does sometimes achieve pure reportage. It’s as though she’s simply serving as a camera, letting me view a scene at a remove with no added comment or info on her response to the scene.

Many of the blurbs seemed to appreciate the more objective tone. “Yes, this is a woman doing confessional writing – but not like all the other girls!”, say the blurbs. My experience was the reverse. I didn’t understand the point of the more detached sections, while the parts that included the author’s emotions could be quite haunting. I also enjoyed the sections where she shared her observations on class. With just a little commentary on her part, these observations incisively dissected the ways people try to pretend class differences don’t exist or to only see a “respectable” sort of poverty.

Annie Ernaux in Mini-ReviewsTitle: Look at the Lights, My Love (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)
Author: Annie Ernaux, Alison L. Strayer
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

This book was published fully 20 years later, in 2014, and was only translated into English in 2023. It follows a very similar format to Exteriors. The author has collected snippets of journal entries over several years. Unlike the first book, this one is committed to a specific theme – the author’s visits to the grocery story. She makes a strong case for the value of these observations, noting that grocery stores serving as one of few locations where a vast diversity of people interact on a regular basis. I enjoyed this book more because the author’s emotional reactions and observations of others were centered throughout. It felt like a distillation of all the best bits of the first book and made me much more interested in reading more of Ernaux.

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