A Modern Classic

A Womans StoryA Woman’s Story by Annie Ernaux was first published by Quartet Books in English in 1990 and re-issued in a new paperback edition in 2014.

Annie chronicles the relationship between mother and daughter after her mother’s death when she travels back in time to re-unite them, writing both movingly and quixotically to capture the real woman, the one who existed independently from her, born on the outskirts of a small Normandy town and who died in the geriatric ward of a hospital in the suburbs of Paris.

In this powerful and poignant tribute re-published a quarter of century after its first publication, Ernaux writes: ‘I believe I’m writing about Mother because this is my turn to bring her into the world.’

Reviewed in the TLS by Lauren Elkin in their issue of 13th March the reviewer says:

This is not your average grief memoir. Ernaux begins to set words to paper at first out of a sense of necessity and then as the words accumulate she tries to capture the real woman…

The woman Ernaux describes seems diametrically opposed to the prose in which her daughter renders her – heavy, noisy, brightly dressed, a churchgoer who ‘sang hymns to the Virgin in a loud booming voice’, which made the young Ernaux ‘want to cry and I hated her for it’…

The words she sets down in A Woman’s Story are flat but not affectless, direct but always measured. In the midst of experiencing shattering loss she strives to find a balance between feeling and reporting. She has resolved to write about her mother with almost ‘sociological’ objectivity remaining ‘a cut below literature’. The result is a cut above. 

It certainly is!

The book, though in a way a cry for help from a daughter who feels aggrieved not to have treated her sick mother with the dignity she deserved, is nevertheless a soul-searching exercise in seeking self-justification for the pain she must have unwittingly caused her mother. A lesson for us all.

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