This morning, the French writer Annie Ernaux was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory".
Going through our back catalogue, it seems that Ernaux's first real appearance in our pages was an April 1990 review of a 1987 Methuen edition of La Place (1983). Loraine Day, the reviewer, described Ernaux then as:
A writer who, as she becomes better known, will undoubtedly become a favourite with teachers and students alike.
Day's own study, reviewed by Margaret Atack in MLR two years later, was only the first of half a dozen in the years following. Ernaux was already a formidable presence, even if not well-known outside of France as yet. As Atack wrote:
far from turning away from the fictional, Ernaux appears instead to be an important contributor to its contemporary renewal.
The MHRA's first book to feature Ernaux as a main topic was Alison Fell's Liberty, Equality, Maternity, which was an early Legenda title from June 2003. By that time, Ernaux was clearly not quite fitting the description "novelist", and Fell highlighted Ernaux's 1993 essay Vers un je transpersonnel, in which she described her own more novelistic writing as "une sorte de tricherie".
Ernaux appeared once more in Akane Kawakami's Legenda book Photobiography ten years later. "It seems inevitable that Ernaux should have been attracted to photography," Kawakami notes, given its "truthful" nature as a form of autobiography. By this point, Ernaux is no longer the recent, trendy author incorporated in the final chapter of a study: she has moved up on the contents page. Proving once again to be difficult to categorise, Ernaux next appeared in our film studies series Moving Image, in Luxury, Sensation and the Moving Image, by Alice Blackhurst, published just last year. By 2021, Ernaux has shifted one rung higher still up the contents page, and has made it to Chapter 2, a sure sign of her prominence. By such degrees do writers become canonical.
Ernaux joins a number of other French laureates, Patrick Modiano (2014) having previously been the latest. (Modiano makes an appearance in The Holocaust in French Postmodern Fiction, by Helena Duffy, currently in proof.) André Gide (1947), Albert Camus (1957) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1964) are probably the most durable of the names on this select list. France in fact leads the medals table, with 16 Nobel Prizes in Literature, and Ernaux's win helps keep it ahead of the two English-language runners-up, the UK and the USA (13 each).