Those who follow my blog know that I am a huge Annie Ernaux fan. I just love the way her books include certain details of her life and if one reads them back to back, one gets a full-ish biography. Saying that The Years is different from her previous books.
First of all the structure is less like a flowing narrative and more like a scrapbook of memories. Here Ernaux takes a look at pictures, adverts and articles and documents the culture at the time and how it affected her. Thus we get a whole history of France dating from the 40’s all the way to 2006. De Gaulle, the urbanisation of France, The Algerian conflict, The rise of Jacques Chirac and Sarkozy, The Gulf War, France’s 1998 Euro cup win, 9/11, mobile phones and much more are mentioned.
What we gain out of this is how personal history is affected by what goes on in the world. We also see how France has changed, from a mostly rural society, from a liberal one to an ultra modern and cosmopolitan one. Annie Ernaux has experienced all of these and, as stated, they did change her.
Despite the patchwork structure, The Years is readable and yet reveals it’s layers as one goes along: is it historical? a feminist text? a memoir? The truth is that it is all of these.
Although the book is an atypical Ernaux, I will say that it is definitely her strongest one to date. I felt like I was taken on a journey on, mostly, unknown territory. This is not Ernaux’s most personal book but it is her most ambitious and far reaching one.