A Girl’s Story

Annie Ernaux

Translated by Alison L. Strayer

French paperback with flaps, 152 pages
Published 7 April 2020 (UK & Ireland) | Published by Seven Stories Press elsewhere

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Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2022 | Co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union

‘I too wanted to forget that girl. Really forget her, that is, stop yearning to write about her. Stop thinking that I have to write about this girl and her desire and madness, her idiocy and pride, her hunger and her blood that ceased to flow. I have never managed to do so.’ In A Girl’s Story, her latest book, Annie Ernaux revisits the summer of 1958, spent working as a holiday camp instructor in Normandy, and recounts the first night she spent with a man. When he moves on, she realizes she has submitted her will to his and finds that she is a slave without a master. Now, sixty years later, she finds she can obliterate the intervening years and return to consider this young woman whom she wanted to forget completely. In writing A Girl’s Story, which brings to life her indelible memories of that summer, Ernaux discovers that here was the vital, violent and dolorous origin of her writing life, built out of shame, violence and betrayal.

Irish Times Books of the Year 2020

‘Ernaux is an unusual memoirist: she distrusts her memory…. Ernaux does not so much reveal the past – she does not pretend to have any authoritative access to it – as unpack it.’
— Madeleine Schwartz, New Yorker

‘A profound and beautiful examination of the impenetrable wall that time erects between the self we are, and the selves we once were. I know of no other book that so vividly illustrates the frustrations and the temptations of that barrier, and our heartache and longing in trying to breach it. Annie Ernaux is one of my favorite contemporary writers, original and true. Always after reading one of her books, I walk around in her world for months.’
— Sheila Heti, author of Motherhood

‘Another deeply felt, fearlessly honest exploration of female desire, shame, and intellectual passion from the incomparable Annie Ernaux.’
— Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend

‘Annie Ernaux writes memoir with such generosity and vulnerable power that I find it difficult to separate my own memories from hers long after I’ve finished reading. In A Girl’s Story she detangles an adolescence rife with desire and shame, an era of both internal and external debasement. Ernaux wisely ventures into the gray areas of her memories; she doesn’t attempt to transcend their power, nor to even “understand” them, but to press them firmly into this diamond of a book.’
— Catherine Lacey, author of Pew

‘In A Girl’s Story, Ernaux cements her position as a writer of immense depth and grace.’
— Sarah Gerard, author of Sunshine State: Essays

‘Revisiting painful periods is hardly new territory for writers, but Ernaux distills a particular power from the exercise.’
— New York Times

‘Ernaux has inherited de Beauvoir’s role of chronicler to a generation.’
— Margaret Drabble, New Statesman

‘An exquisite elegy.’
— Irish Times

‘For all that A Girl’s Story is intoxicatingly specific about time and place, it is also a story that belongs to any number of selfconsciously clever girls with appetite and no nous, who must, like Ernaux, reckon with the entanglements of sexism and sexuality. But it is above all personal. In reclaiming the girl she was, Ernaux becomes her own Orpheus.’
— Spectator

‘Reading Annie Ernaux recalls the intoxicating company of Ferrante and Beauvoir. I am welcomed by these writers, invited into their worlds by the retrieval of long-ago buried memories and sensations that are deeply and quickly, often painfully, rekindled and brought back to life, sometimes violently, by words on the page.’
— Los Angeles Review of Books

‘The book is a beautiful contemplation of desire, memory, time, and the self.’
— Book Riot

‘Ernaux’s narration of the female experience is refreshingly frank, and – with its delicately weighted ebb and flow, its moments of quiet rumination, and sudden volta shifts – seamlessly translated by Alison L. Strayer.’
3:AM Magazine

‘Few living writers have exploited this form as effectively; Ernaux does for the internal memory what Svetlana Alexievich has done for the social memory. Quite a feat.’
— Jane Graham, The Big Issue

Born in 1940, Annie Ernaux grew up in Normandy, studied at Rouen University, and later taught at secondary school. From 1977 to 2000, she was a professor at the Centre National d’Enseignement par Correspondance. In 2017, Annie Ernaux was awarded the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her life’s work. In 2022, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Alison L. Strayer is a Canadian writer and translator. Her work has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Literature and for Translation, the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal, and longlisted for the Prix Albertine. Her translation of The Years was awarded the 2018 French-American Prize, shortlisted for the Man Booker International in 2019, and awarded the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, honouring both author and translator.