Annie Ernaux, Ocean Vuong, and Vigdis Hjorth are the three writers grouped together by Eloise Hendy, in a new essay at Frieze that identifies intergenerational trauma within families as the key concern of the contemporary novel:
Last year, a surge of books took up the subject of motherhood, with writers like Jessie Greengrass, Sheila Heti and Jacqueline Rose looking askance at issues of maternity and reproduction. In these publications by Ernaux, Hjorth, and Vuong, it is the child that looks back. At the heart of each book is a relationship with a parent that is marked by either physical, sexual or emotional violence. While it’s possible to see this as a continuation of a publishing trend for issues relating to parenthood, in fact, the marked similarities between these three texts connect to a broader shift that has occurred in literature in the past twenty years or so. Namely, the move towards contradiction and irresolution, fragment, a continuous present, themes of trauma and loss, and the now-dominant obsession with truth-telling and hybrid forms of memoir. What this contemporary aesthetic amounts to is a literature of testimony and therapy, of salvage and ‘working through’. It’s not parenthood these texts grapple with, but intergenerational trauma and survival.