French author Annie Ernaux was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in literature for “the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory,” the Swedish Academy said on Thursday.
Ernaux, 82, started out writing autobiographical novels, but quickly abandoned fiction in favour of memoirs.
Her more than 20 books, most of them very short, chronicle events in her life and the lives of those around her. They present uncompromising portraits of sexual encounters, abortion, illness and the deaths of her parents.
Anders Olsson, chairman, Nobel Committee for literature, said Ernaux’s work was often “uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean”.
“She has achieved something admirable and enduring,” he told reporters after the announcement in Stockholm, Sweden.
Ernaux describes her style as “flat writing” (ecriture plate), a very objective view of the events she is describing, unshaped by florid description or overwhelming emotions.
In the book that made her name, “La Place” (A Man’s Place), about her relationship with her father, she writes: “No lyrical reminiscences, no triumphant displays of irony. This neutral writing style comes to me naturally.”
Her most critically acclaimed book was “The Years” (Les annees), published in 2008 describing herself and wider French society from the end of World War II to the present day.
Unlike in previous books, in “The Years”, Ernaux writes about herself in the third person, calling her character “she” rather than “I”. The book received numerous awards and honours.
Last year’s prize went to the Tanzanian-born, UK-based writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose novels explore the impact of migration on individuals and societies.
The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the economics award on Monday.
The prizes carry a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (nearly USD 900,000) and will be handed out on December 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.