Published 20 September 2023
French paperback with flaps, 40 pages
Five years ago, I spent an awkward night with a student who had been writing to me for a year and wanted to meet me.
Often I have made love to force myself to write. I hoped to find in the fatigue, the dereliction that comes after, reasons not to expect anything more from life. I hoped that orgasm, the most violent end to waiting that can be, would make me feel certain that there is no greater pleasure than writing a book. Perhaps it was the desire to spark the writing of a book – a task I had hesitated to undertake because of its immensity – that prompted me to take A. home for a drink after dinner at a restaurant, during which, through timidity, he had remained all but speechless. He was almost thirty years younger than me.
We saw each other on weekends, and, in between, came to miss each other more and more. He phoned me daily from a public phone so as not to arouse the suspicions of the girl he lived with. Neither she nor he, caught up in the routines of a couple living together too young, and worrying about exams, had ever imagined that making love could be anything other than a more or less slow-motion satisfaction of desire; that it could be a sort of continuous creation. The fervour he displayed in the face of this new discovery bound me to him more and more. Little by little, the affair became a relationship that we longed to take to the limit, without really knowing what that meant.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2022
In her latest work, Annie Ernaux recounts a relationship with a student thirty years her junior – an experience that transforms her, briefly, back into the ‘scandalous girl’ of her youth. When she is with him, she replays scenes she has already lived through, feeling both ageless and closer to death. Laid like a palimpsest on the present, the past’s immediacy pushes her to take a decisive step in her writing – producing, in turn, the need to expunge her lover. At once stark and tender, The Young Man is a taut encapsulation of Ernaux’s relationship to time, memory and writing.
‘[Shame and The Young Man] deserve to be read widely. Her work is self-revealing, a series of pitiless auto-autopsies….Their disparate achievements work together to illuminate something perennially fascinating about Ernaux: her relationship to revelation and visibility. These are deeply intimate books, but in another way, Ernaux brings a disquieting impersonality to her project.’
— Megan Nolan, The Times
‘Annie Ernaux’s work is proof of how expertly autobiography can be done… The Young Man does offer a taste of what’s so unique and astonishing about her honesty, her intelligence, the deceptive simplicity of her narratives. And for those who have been reading her for decades, it adds invaluable information to what we have already learned about the sources of her energy and courage, about the complex connections between her life and her work, her lived experience and the grace with which she transforms memory into art.'
— Francine Prose, Guardian
‘Reading her is like getting to know a friend, the way they tell you about themselves over long conversations that sometimes take years, revealing things slowly, looping back to some parts of their life over and over, hardly mentioning others.’
— Joanna Biggs, London Review of Books
‘Annie Ernaux is one of my favourite contemporary writers, original and true. Always after reading one of her books, I walk around in her world for months.’
— Sheila Heti, author of Pure Colour
‘I find her work extraordinary.’
— Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
‘But the brevity has a function. Ernaux’s works aren’t coy or glancing; they’ve been sharpened to a point. Though she seems like a writer of details, each book is a vital mission, carried out with thrusting force.’
— Tobi Haslett, Harper’s
‘That Ernaux can do so much — “The Young Man” tackles love, aging, desire, loss, misogyny, class and death — in such a small space is clearly the hallmark of a writer who has honed her craft to be razor sharp. It cuts to the bone.’
— Jessica Ferri, Washington Post
‘Ernaux has inherited de Beauvoir’s role of chronicler to a generation.’
— Margaret Drabble, New Statesman
‘Across the ample particularities of over forty years and twenty-one books, almost all short, subject-driven memoirs, Ernaux has fundamentally destabilized and reinvented the genre in French literature.’
— Audrey Wollen, The Nation
‘The Young Man is another opportunity to journey with Ernaux as she peels back an experience…’
— Pat Reber, Artsfuse
‘As Ernaux’s work shows, telling the story of a life always involves more than putting the facts of it in order. It means moving backward and forward through time, repeating and revisiting, uncovering old memories and fleshing out stories that have already been told. If you end up returning again and again to the same episodes, then so be it. Show them from different angles. Rearrange the order. Do whatever you must to make it new.’
— Maggie Doherty, New Republic
Praise for Getting Lost
‘Like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, Ernaux’s affair should be counted as one of the great liaisons of literature.... I suspect the book will become a kind of totem for lovers: a manual to help them find their centre when, like Ernaux, they are lost in love. All her books have the quality of saving frail human details from oblivion. Together they tell, in fragments, the story of a woman in the twentieth century who has lived fully, sought out pain and happiness equally and then committed her findings truthfully on paper. Her life is our inheritance.’
— Ankita Chakraborty, Guardian
‘Getting Lost is a feverish book. It’s about being impaled by desire, and about the things human beings want, as opposed to the things for which they settle ... it’s one of those books about loneliness that, on every page, makes you feel less alone.’
— Dwight Garner, New York Times
‘From the very first lines, we feel ourselves, like her, caught up in the vertigo of waiting, obsessed by the telephone that never rings, time that passes too quickly and the meetings that become less frequent. Love, death and literature are constantly intertwined in this story that plunges us into the intimacy of a couple, without ever giving us the impression of being voyeurs.’
— Pascale Frey, Elle
‘Ernaux has once more created a living document of existential terror and hope.’
— Catherine Taylor, Irish Times
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 Translation, the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal, and longlisted for the Prix Albertine. Her translation of The Years by Annie Ernaux was awarded the 2018 French-American Prize, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019, and awarded the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, honouring both author and translator.
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