A Girl’s Story by Annie Ernaux

details
Title: Mémoire de fille.
Writer(s): Annie Ernaux.
Publisher: Gallimard.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: April 1st, 2016.
Pages: 160.
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Memoir.
ISBN13: 9782072763137.
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

thoughts

Toward the end of 2022, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to author Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”. Having never heard of her or her books before, my girlfriend and I were gifted by her mother a copy of A Girl’s Story not too long after the author won the award. With nothing but my curiosity encouraging me into discovering Annie Ernaux’s writing (and the fact that this was a gift after all), I picked up this short memoir and took a trip down the author’s memory lane to a time in her life that one wouldn’t necessarily call glorious.

What is A Girl’s Story about? Author Annie Ernaux recounts her memories of the summer of 1958 when she spent her time in a summer camp in Orne, Normandy, where she had her first sexual relationship and loses her virginity to a guy. Reflecting on those events that occurred over fifty years ago from the day she wrote this memoir, she explores the impact of this memorable and staggering event on the following two years of her adulthood but also reflects on who she is today and what these moments in her life meant to her.

“D’avoir reçu les clés pour comprendre la honte ne donne pas le pouvoir de l’effacer.”

Annie Ernaux

Through her writing style, Annie Ernaux delivers a thoroughly visceral and intimate recounting of those moments in her life when her understanding of relationships and love was reduced to a deeply-ingrained yearning to be desired by men. What would today be seen as a repulsive objectification of women, she once longed for that feeling to be the object of desire of men and now understands with shame what she lived through. Without being condescending toward herself, she efficiently muses on the raison d’être behind these events that shaped her being, the social and personal circumstances that clouded her reasoning.

Beyond the self-scrutinizing analysis of her own memories, what really stands out from this memoir is how Annie Ernaux utilizes writing as therapy. While I couldn’t relate to her psychological plight and could only sympathize with her introspective journey, this memoir offers a unique perspective on relevant and timely matters about one’s self-esteem, identity, and sexuality. The way she achieves this, always putting things into perspective, and taking a step back, clearly shows an impressive understanding of life and allows for an impressive healing process to begin. Her final thoughts on the differences between an event the moment they’re lived through and when looking back upon them is also eye-opening and a wonderful conclusive statement for this memoir.

A Girl’s Story is an introspective and poignant memoir exploring the author’s coming-of-age story while focusing on a significant event around her virginity and sexuality and reflecting on women’s objectification, their unsaid desires, and the unspoken shame around the matter.


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6 thoughts on “A Girl’s Story by Annie Ernaux

  1. Only a bold author would explore and make public her emotions about her first sexual experience. Ernaux is an extraordinary writer taking on the penmanship of being her own therapist, psychoanalyst, of which her self-assessment became a bestselling book… Remarkable!

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  2. When did taking pride in one’s shame become the norm? It seems that people write the worst stuff of their lives and then glory in the attendant attention they get. I can understand the writing out part, but the telling the whole world part? Utterly baffles me.

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  3. Creative endeavors of various sorts, like writing, can be forms of therapy, helping us relook at ourselves but through a slightly different lens that perhaps allows us to more accurately see who we are and how we fit into the world, how we’ve changed, who we’ve become. It gives us the distance be more objective. And sharing all that through our art has the potential to help others who may be going through similar times, or perhaps even help someone avoid falling into traps we fell into. I don’t know if this is one of those sorts of books, but it sounds like it may be and I’m hopeful it is.

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  4. I don’t read memoirs and I might relate to the subject but I think many readers might have gone through the same experience. It’s amazing how author could self-scrutinize her memories. I hardly can remember what I ate last week. Excellent review!

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  5. I’ve read her “Years” soon after she got the prize, a great portrait of her generation and many changes French society faced during and after the war – until almost now. Succinct, but evocative, I need to agree with the jury, she got her prize justly 🙂

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