Friday, 12 July, 2024, Reg No- 06
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Reviewed by Najmus Sakib

Published : Saturday, 25 May, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 684



The newest of Ernauxs memoirs is another of her usual recounting of intimate love…

Julian Barnes in his magnificent The Sense of an Ending (2011) says in a rather self-censuring tone, "...what you end up remembering isn always the same as what you have witnessed." Annie Ernaux, the French Nobel winning octogenarian, however, contrasts this very notion of remembering after witnessing.

While people, in general, try to remember what theyve witnessed, she ventures to re-experience what she has witnessed through remembrance. The act of writing becomes a medium through which she experiences her past, instead of merely laying out events for everyone else. She goes to uncanny lengths to minutely describe the events of her life and this sense of sheer detailing comes from her own desire to re-live and re-experience.

The Young Man (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2023), gracefully translated by Alison L Strayer who also translated four of her other books, is a recounting of an affair, a relationship Ernaux had with a student almost 30 years her junior. If you have furrowed brows reading this, Ernaux would readily reproach you saying, no one bats an eye when a fifty-something years old man is in with a girl the age of his daughter, but only when the role is reversed, it is frowned upon, as if its an abomination. Why the hypocrisy?

This prodigious age gap put Ernaux in a position of command and authority which she lacked in her other relationships. In most of her other books, she shows how shes mostly subservient to her partners and when the role is reversed, she enjoys the perks of being the one with more authority. Yet, theres a blandness that pervades throughout the book unlike her other notable works, most of which divulge profusions of emotional barrage.

The relationship Ernaux talks about in The Young Man stands in stark contrast to all of her other relationships, saliently because of her authority in this relationship and how A, as she mentions his lover in the book, incorporated her past and how, with him, she travelled through all the ages of her life. The narrative blooms into more than just a relationship, it becomes a medium for ruminations on time, memory, life, death and class conscience-something which is ubiquitous in all of Ernauxs writings.

For Ernaux, imagining and remembering are the very essence of writing and the act of writing not only complements the act of living but completes it as she puts it, "If I don write things down, they haven been carried through to completion. They have only been lived." Her desire to make her own life an art and to memorialize it is most strikingly apparent in Shame (1998), when she proclaims in Biblical fashion: "Take this, all of you, and read it, this is my body, this is the cup of my blood, it will be shed for you and for all men."

Unlike Knausgaards auto-fictions, Ernauxs memoirs don follow chronologically or any particular pattern for that matter. Her memoirs feel more like blocks taken out of a larger whole and sporadically displayed than a complete, sequential whole. For this very reason, theres no definitive book in Ernauxs oeuvre from which one should start.

Perhaps you can read The Years, the only close to definite account of her life, if you e in a rush and if you want to savour the works of possibly the best memoirist of our time in greater length, you can then choose to pick up her Happening or A Womans Place or Shame or any of her other books in any order as you please and to have the full picture of Ernauxs palimpsest of a life that she made into an art, you have to stitch the pieces.

Updikes shibboleth was to give the mundane its beautiful due and Ernauxs seems to be to memorialize the mundane, not beautifully but as it is-sometimes vile and sometimes comforting but always with the authenticity of the quotidian in ruthless intimacy, made possible by, in Roths words, a scrupulous fidelity to the blizzard of specific data that is a personal life.

The reviewer studies Linguistics at the University of Dhaka

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