Chad Post's Reviews > A Woman's Story

A Woman's Story by Annie Ernaux
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Jan 22, 2011

really liked it
Read in January, 2011

Like the other Ernaux books I've read, this is a really straightforward novel, concise, devoid of crazy plot twists or hidden secrets or any of the other plot devices that we usually think of when we think of fiction.

Although as Ernaux writes, this book about her mother's life, Alzheimer's, and death isn't really a work of fiction: "Naturally, this isn't a biography, neither is it a novel, maybe a cross between literature, sociology, and history. It was only when my mother--born in an oppressed world from which she wanted to escape--became history that I started to feel less alone and out of place in a world ruled by words and ideas, the world where she had wanted me to live."

The book opens with her mother's death and--in a passive, distant tone--relates the details surrounding her funeral. By backtracking to her grandparents, then advancing through her mother's childhood, and on through her own birth, her struggles against her mother, etc., the narrative gains a certain strength when the reader re-experiences the mother's death. It's no longer an mother who has passed away, but a specific person with specific qualities.

You can literally read this in an hour (or three if you're sitting in Bounce-it-Out ignoring the screams of all the city's children), yet thanks to Ernaux's precision, it *feels* a lot bigger than that. There's a certain honesty to her straight tellings that's refreshing in the face of most contemporary writing. (FYI: Going to read a bunch of her books in preparation for an event on February 24th with Ernaux and Rick Moody.)
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