The Years by Annie Ernaux was published in 2008 and won the Nobel Prize in 2022, 14 years later. THAT’s how complex and original its vision and ideas were; it took a long time to be seen. Personal narrative in the ‘we’ voice that defies all conventions, it is more a biography of an age — of a generation of women — that spanned from 1941 to 2006. Yet it seems to be about now.
One passage haunts us, or perhaps better put, has become a question we ask ask ourselves daily:
We lived in a profusion of everything, objects, information and “expert opinions.” No sooner had an event occurred than someone issued a reflection, whatever the subject: manners of conduct, the body, orgasm, and euthanasia. Everything was discussed and decrypted. Between “addiction,” “resilience,” and “grief work,” there were countless ways of transposing life and emotions into words. Depression, alcoholism, frigidity, anorexia, unhappy childhoods, nothing was lived in vain anymore. The communication of experience and fantasies was pleasing to the conscience. Collective introspection provided models for putting the self into words. The repertoire of shared knowledge grew. The mind grew more agile, children learned at a younger age, and the slowness of school drove young people to distraction. They texted on their mobiles full tilt.
With all the intermingling of concepts, it was increasingly difficult to find a phrase of one’s own, the kind that, when silently repeated, helped one live.
Is there a message within each of us that lies hidden, obscured by all the media and opinions and public “personal” expression: a pure, original voice?
What is the phrase of our own, the kind that, when silently repeated, helps us live?”