This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Hélène's debut novel, The People in the Photo, was released earlier this year. You can read our review of it here. Hélène tells us how the books of Annie Ernaux, and in particuar The Years, have inspired her own writing.
Instead of a book that changed my life, it’s an author who changed the way I see literature that I would like to recall: Annie Ernaux. I discovered her when I was 30 years old, and I read Happening, in which she discusses her abortion. I was left breathless by her clinical and scientific use of extremely pared-down language, to tell such a terrible story. The language of truth. Afterwards I read all of her other books, and I found within them the same density, the same courage, the same power, and also, the capacity to go straight to the heart of the matter – to say, in so few words, so much about the violence of life. Thanks to her, I discovered that language can also be a political gesture, a mirror of life – not only of hers, but that of others, of everyone else.
In 2008, Annie Ernaux published The Years, which was her autobiography. But instead of saying “I”, as one usually would, she said “she”, “us” and “they”. Through her, an entire society spoke, all those French women across the three post-war generations. The book shows the passing of time. You get lost in the pages, and you don’t come out. When I reached the chapters about the end of the seventies, which is when my own childhood memories really begin, I could see and hear all of it: the theme songs of TV shows, the names of politicians I would hear on the radio, my parents’ gestures. I understood a little better what their generation had been through, and also just how difficult it was to be a woman before 1968. It was as if, in one go, I had been handed back my childhood, and its noises and colours. I was on the verge of tears when I reached the last pages, as I could never have imagined seeing or reading these images again. And yet, there they were.I owe so much to Annie Ernaux, as much as a reader, as a woman, and as a citizen, but also as a writer. Her work for me is righteous and demanding. She has mastered writing with worldliness in a way that I dare not hope ever achieve, but she gives me the courage to try. She helps me dare to try. It’s for this reason that I borrowed from The Years the highlighted sentence of The People in the Photo. May my own words, in turn, echo her own.