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Becky Varley-Winter on Jean Frémon and Annie Ernaux

Earlier this week at the Glasgow Review of Books, Becky Varley-Winter read Jean Frémon’s Now, Now, Louison (trans. Cole Swenson) and Annie Ernaux’s The Years (trans. Alison L. Strayer) side-by-side, as books composed of “layers of stories”:

They play with life-writing, biography, autobiography and history, but approach their subjects slant. The first sentence of Now, Now, Louison is “You’ve thrown open all the windows and doors, hoping to get a breath of air.” It’s disorientating: I don’t know who is speaking, whether this is [Louise] Bourgeois or Frémon, as he tries to ventriloquise her inner world. Although [Frémon] knew Bourgeois well, I chafe against his use of “you” in this context, which feels both intimate and uncomfortable, even invasive at times, presuming complete access to Bourgeois’ inner thoughts and memories. … One of the central premises of The Years is that we are made collectively, and that our opinions are determined to a large extent by language, culture and circumstance. The most immediate effect of Ernaux’s use of “we” is that a sense of revelation and anticipation vanishes, or is re-absorbed in the passage of time…