The Martins by David Foenkinos (translated from the French by Sam Taylor) Paris in July 2022

Published July 16, 2022 by Gallic Books

The Martins has sold more than 100,000 copies in its first two months on sale in France. It is about a disillusioned Parisian writer who finds inspiration in the ordinary lives of his neighbors, the Martins.

When the author is bored, and uninspired, he steps out of his apartment and introduces himself to an elderly woman coming down the sidewalk with her shopping. He addresses her with this comment:

I know this might seem a bit strange, but…It’s a challenge that I set myself…I’ll spare you the details but basically I decided that I was going to write about the first person I met in the street.

p. 11

Indeed, it does strike her as strange, but not so much that she refuses him. Rather, she invites him into her home, as she has things that need to go in the freezer, and they begin to talk. Soon, she is telling him about her first love. Later, he becomes involved with writing about her daughter’s life as well, with her husband and two teenagers.

I had infiltrated a tired family, trapped on the wheel of routine; passengers on the same ship who brushed past each other without ever really meeting.

p. 41

Each one confides in him: the husband’s feelings of discontent with work; the wife’s feelings of not being desired; the daughter’s curiosity about a boy she wants to date; and the son’s utter reluctance to confide much of anything.

Irony is often the gateway to despair…When you aren’t happy, other people’s lives always seem much more interesting; your judgment on such matters is impaired to say the least.

p. 55

As he listens to their woes, he considers his own. What of the woman who has left him because he wouldn’t listen to her? Do they still have a chance? And, what of the mother’s first love, who now resides in Los Angeles, California? The author and this elderly woman make the trip to meet him, and while there, he continues an exchange of texts that he and his former love have recently conducted.

The conclusion of this novel is quite satisfying. Without any sort of outcome that one might expect, or even hope for, there is a specific resolution for each character within these pages. I found it a delightful excursion to Paris, as well as insight into a family which may live anywhere so common is their experience to humankind.

Finally, a few quotes which intrigued me while reading. The first, is a question he asks the elderly mother:

How did your relationship with time change once your days were numbered?

p. 64

She tells him, earlier, that she worked in the fashion industry with Karl Lagerfeld, who apparently said that:

“Silence was his mother’s favorite melody.”

p. 128

And finally, this, when the mother’s daughter, who feels undesired by her husband, comes out of her room to have dinner with the author:

She was wearing make up and her body was sheathed in a skin-tight dress, elevated on high-heels; her outfit was a trailer for the film of her thoughts.

p. 131

These are only a few of the marvelous insights which occur on almost every page of The Martins, which I found to be a most enjoyable novel.

Find more thought at Mae’s Food Blog and at Words and Peace.

Sunday Salon: A Messed-Up Foot and A Wind-Up Bird

I was born with bones in my feet which refused to align. My mother would put rubber spools between my toes when I was a baby in order to encourage them to grow straight, but alas, they would not. Thankfully, I was always able to walk, but not without discomfort.

I had a surgery on both feet in 1975, after which they were casted for the entire summer. I had another surgery in 2006, which turned out much better. After that one, I had to wear tennis shoes for six weeks which was a huge improvement over plaster casts. On Monday, I had surgery on my right foot; when that heals, I will have the left done.

It is not entirely woeful. I love having time to read. It is so sweet that my husband brings me every meal, my parents bring me bread pudding and jelly beans, my son brings me roses and aranciata San Pellegrino. All that, and being an introvert at heart, makes being quiet at home a sort of paradise.

As there is a lot of time needed for recovery from this third procedure, I asked a new blogging friend of mine at Swift as Inspiration if he had any interest in reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami with me. It is a rather lengthy book, one which I would love to discuss because I’m not entirely sure I understood all of it the first time around.

Then, I thought I would widen the invitation. If you have any inclination to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle with us, the schedule will go as follows:

Book One: The Thieving Magpie for the week of July 18

Book Two: Bird as Prophet for the week of July 25

Book Three: The Birdcatcher for the week of August 1

After each week, we will write a post with our thoughts and observations; hopefully you can engage in our discussion should you wish to read along (and post as well?).

Meanwhile, I am finishing books for Paris in July 22, and 20 Books of Summer. I have only read 12, if you count two I could not finish: Book of Night by Holly Black and Geiger by G. Skordeman. But, the French books have been an utter delight: Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley, Paris by Edward Rutherfurd, Maigret and The Reluctant Witness by Georges Simenon, and The Martins by David Foenkinos.

And you? Are you finding time to read? Enjoying anything related to France? Finishing your 20 Books of Summer?

The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman, translated from the French by Leslie Camhi (International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist)

This is the third novel from the International Booker Prize long list, out of the five I’ve read so far, which has a mother and daughter relationship at its core. (More Than I Love My Life by David Grossman, and Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro, are the other two.)

We were used to Maman’s sporty driving habits. She was constantly running late, and she sometimes climbed onto the sidewalks when the roads were backed up, a time-tested method for avoiding traffic jams. Cigarette dangling from her left hand, she’d scream at pedestrians: Get out of my way! We’re late! … It was no surprise that Maman drove like a madwoman, the rules of the road were purely theoretical to her, and pointlessly annoying, although she would, if she saw a truck bearing down on us as we swerved into the wrong lane, retreat: Oh well, he’s rather big, that one!

(p. 2-3)

While it begins rather humorously, The Book Of Mother quickly reveals a painful side. This is what it was like living with a manic- depressive person, myself. They are the life of the party until they aren’t. It is up to the steadfast family members who dwell in the shadows to pick up the pieces and fit them back together. In this case, it is Maman’s daughters, Elsa and Violaine.

Not once did this novel become a long whine into “poor me.” It kept me riveted throughout, to the encroyable antics of Maman, Catherine, and the enormous compassion and strength that her daughters displayed. I could feel the profound love the three had for each other, flawed as the relationship may have been.

Violaine’s book is written in first person; it is autofiction, a combination of autobiography and fiction, and therefore deeply personal as well as engaging. Yet, isn’t it always autofiction when we tell our life stories? Which of us is able to relate our past experiences with anything other than our own perspective? And surely, mine is not objective.

The Book of Mother made me think of my own mother. Not because she is even vaguely as volatile as Catherine was, but because she is a free spirit deeply loved by me.

The last page of the book has a poem which Violaine wrote to her mother when she was in school. Violaine finds it in one of her mother’s desk drawers, folded in half, which she can hardly read through eyes blurred with tears:

Maman, Maman,

You who love me so

Why, without telling me, would you go?

My deepest desire is to express to you

How deeply I love you!

(p. 211)

That is exactly what Violaine Huisman does in this magnificent book. I found it deeply moving and wonderful, far more than I can express in this silly post.

Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano (translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti)

I’m trying to impose some order on my memories. Every one of them is a piece of the puzzle, but many are missing, and most of them remain isolated. Sometimes I manage to connect three or four, but no more than that. So I jot down bits and pieces that come back to me in no particular order, lists of names or brief phrases. I hope that these names, like magnets, will draw others to the surface, and that those bits of sentences might end of forming paragraphs and chapters that link together.

(p. 63)

It’s funny that although Sleep of Memory was published in English in 2018, I am the first to read this particular copy. The pages are crisp, and the binding cracks slightly when I turn them. Does no one in our city read Patrick Modiano?

I had not read his work myself, until this year with Tamara’s Paris in July. Family Record was the first book by Modiano that I picked up, and I became entranced by the dream-like state he induced. That, and some of his sentences which apply to my own heart:

It was the first time I’d given such spontaneous answers to questions about my life. Until then, I had always avoided them, as I felt a natural distrust toward any form of interrogation.

(p. 29)

If we could relive something we’d already experienced, in the same time, the same place, and the same circumstances, but live it much better than the first time, without the mistakes, hitches and idle moments, it would be like making a clean copy of a heavily revised manuscript…

(p. 60)

Ah, regret. Do-overs. That is a fruitless path of thought. Nevertheless, I go down it more times than I would willingly choose, especially as I get older. Perhaps it is a good thing that our “memories sleep,” which is one way that I understand this novel to be about.

In our memories blend images of roads that we have taken, and we can’t recall what regions they cross.

(Last sentence of the book)

The Red Notebook, or Le Cahier Rouge, by Antoine Laurain (for Paris in July 2021)

When Laurent finds a mauve handbag lying on top of a garbage bin, he takes it to the police who tell him they are too busy to help him now; he may come back tomorrow when their office is open from nine-thirty to one o’clock, and from 2 o’clock until seven. So, he takes the bag to his apartment and opens it.

He is greeted with the scent of leather and a woman’s perfume, and immediately I am intrigued. While the French women may not always apply lipstick, they do apply perfume. One of the things that I dislike very much is when an author mentions the word “perfume” without telling us what it is; I was so ecstatic when Laurain tells us it is Habanita by Molinard that I paused my reading to buy a bottle.

My joy continued as I read of each item extracted from this handbag: a black glass bottle of Habanita, a golden fob with hieroglyphics inscribed on it, a little diary/calendar, a fawn and violet leather bag containing make-up and accessories, a gold lighter and a Montblanc ballpoint, along with a red Moleskine notebook. There was also a book, Accident Nocturne, by Patrick Modiano “a novelist whose favorite themes were mystery, memory and the search for identity.” Fortuitously, he had inscribed the book ‘For Laure, in memory of meeting in the rain. Patrick Modiano.’ Now Laurent has a name to help him identify the bag’s owner.

The woman who owned this designer bag was struck on the head when it was stolen from her, and she now lies in a coma at the hospital. We follow Laurent, as he searches for her, and I am utterly charmed at his efforts. He waits for Patrick Modiano in the Luxembourg Gardens to see if he can find more information about the woman whose novel Patrick had autographed. He finds her apartment, and cares for her cat, while she is not even there.

Parts of this novel could be seen as far-fetched, perhaps, but it is an enjoyable read to say the least, and carries me to the heart of Paris which is exactly what I wanted it to do this July.

I read this novel, and Patrick Modiano’s Family Record, for Tamara’s Paris in July 2021.

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis (2021 International Booker Prize longlist)

“Up to the third hand, I was a war hero, beginning with the fourth I became a dangerous madman, a blood-thirsty savage. God’s truth, that’s how things go, that’s how the world is: each thing is double.”

How ironic that Captain Armand doesn’t want Alfa Ndiaye to cut off the enemy’s hands anymore. “Your way of waging war is a little too savage. I never ordered you to cut off enemy hands! It isn’t regulation…You will content yourself with killing them, not mutilating them. The civilities of war forbid it.”

“Civilities of war.” As if there is such a thing. It was the guilt Alfa felt over the death of his more-than-brother, Mademba Diop, that caused him to bring back the hands of the blue-eyed enemies. Hands that were still attached to their rifles.

At first he was treated with respect, but after the fourth hand he was seen as a “demm,” a devourer of the souls. But, I think it is his own soul which is being devoured. He cannot forgive himself for the way that his friend died. He cannot forgive himself for not taking Mademba’s life when Mademba begged him.

“Ah, Mademba! How I regretted not killing you on the morning of the battle, while you were still asking me nicely, as a friend, with a smile in your voice! To have slit your throat in that moment would have been the last good bit of fun I could have given you in your life, a way to stay friends for eternity. But instead of coming through for you, I let you die condemning me, bawling, drooling, screaming, shitting yourself like a feral child. In the name of who knows what human laws, I abandoned you to your miserable lot. Maybe to save my own soul, maybe to remain the person those who raised me hoped for me to be, before God and before man.”

It is when he tells his story, of his mother going off in search of her father and her brothers, so that Mademba’s family takes him in as one of their own, that we see his tender spirit. I did not expect to be so moved by his story, unable to stop reading until I had finished the novel. Some say it is a story of Black and White, of war, and of a madman who commits unspeakable violence. I say it is the story of a heart which is broken, unable to forgive itself or heal from the losses of those held dear.

“But the truly brave like Mademba are the ones who aren’t afraid of punches even though they’re weak. God’s truth, now I can admit it to myself, Mademba was braver than me. But I know, I have understood too late that I should have said this to him before he died.

At Night All Blood Is Black

Malicroix by Henri Bosco

the moon outside my front door one evening; most definitely not in the Camargue

I have been living with Martial de Mégremut, on the island his great-uncle required he inhabit, for several days. And, nights. For it is during the night that so much of the action seems to take place. People come and go, quietly, quickly, in the night. They suddenly appear, and suddenly disappear, and Martial often follows them through the brush, or the snow, on a muddy path which is at best obscure.

Your great-uncle Mr. Cornélius, in making you his heir (under certain conditions, moreover, as you will see) has left you but a modest inheritance:

On the mainland, along the river, two hundred fifty acres of barren ground. Nothing grows there except a little grass for the sheep. Of course, you will find a flock of one hundred head. It is not much. But Mr Cornélius eked out a living from them. It is true you will also have the island and the house of La Redousse, unproductive, alas! You will also have Balandran. He tends the sheep. He fishes. He hunts. A singular man, as you will discover. Completely devoted to Mr. Cornélius, down to his marrow; he is thought to have a harsh character.

How could he have lived without Balandran? This quiet, incredibly strong, yet small, man brings Martial his dinner. His breakfast. His coffee. He cleans with great efficiency and prepares the small iron bed with sheets smelling of soap.

I loved the little whitewashed hut in which Martial dwells. It has a bed, a desk, a chair, a fireplace and a storeroom. There are no books, no diversions of any kind other than his contemplative thoughts as he sits before the fire. This is where he must live for three months before the rest of the will’s stipulations are revealed to him.

During his stay he befriends Bréquillet, Balandran’s dog:

I returned to the fire.While I had been looking the other way, Bréquillet had slipped onto the hearthstone. He was resting there, his muzzle on his two black paws, relaxed but alert…Bréquillet sighed with well-being. Long tremors ran along his spine as he closed his eyes to savor the pleasures of a warm hearth and the closeness of man, creator of fire, friend of dogs.

During his stay, he learns of the ram, Sacristan:

A great ram, a male leader a sire. I had never before seen one so tall or so strong. His loins were huge, thick; his chest deep. Tawny wool rolled in thick curls from his rump to his warm, vibrant neck. Around his pointy ears, his horns spiraled three times, vigorously crowning his thick, woolly temples. His wide, hairy brow was boldly thrust forward, ready for combat; his eyes sparkled.

“This is Sacristan,” Balandran said solemnly, “our master ram.”

I was overcome with emotion. “Yes, I said to Balandran. “I remember. After the rain, we were supposed to go to the land, to see him.”

The rain. It rains constantly on the island:

An almost unearthly light radiated from the whitewashed ceilings and walls. Meanwhile, it was raining outside. Under the wind’s thrusts, the rain had begun again, and I heard showers lashing the roof. For the window, I could see the clayey soil of the clearing, where drops of water splattered. Nearby, elms, enormous birches, and giant willows rose. Their trucks held up a vast tangle of leafless limbs whose tips touched the storm. They tossed despairingly against the gray sky, heralding winter.

Can you not sense the mood? The almost gothic quality of the island, its inhabitants, and even the weather? Henri Bosco has done a masterful job of creating a sense of place, which for me, was even more significant than the trial of enduring on an island, virtually alone, while waiting to find out what else needs to be done to gain an inheritance. (It was a grave deed that Martial must accomplish, one so subtly described it was almost easy for me to miss.)

I loved this book, for the beautiful writing (and translation!) allowing me to contemplate the slow pace that we ourselves are now living during the self isolation of the CoronaVirus pandemic. It is a time of seclusion that proves Martial’s worth, as he must overcome severe adversity and his fears. It is a time that tests our own strength as well, in which perhaps we, too, would be well-served to sit quietly by the fire, calmly reviewing our lives.

Malicroix was published on April 7, 2020. It was my great pleasure to read it with Dorian (@ds228), Frances (@nonsuchbook), Grant (@GrantRintoul), Nat (@Gnatleech) and Kim (@joiedevivre9). Thank you, nyrb for the copy to read, and Joyce Zonana (@JoyceZonana) for an exquisitely wrought translation.

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis, Booker International Prize 2020): a collection of interrelated stories exquisitely told.

This is a spellbinding web of stories about people on the periphery. Pagano makes rural France her subject matter, invoking the closeness of a local community and the links between the inhabitants’ lives, but then she reminds us how little we know of each other.

~Peirene Press on Faces on The Tip of My Tongue

I think the best way to ‘review’ this collection of stories, translated from the French, is to put what struck me as the most meaningful bits under each chapter’s title. As you read them, perhaps common threads uniting them will be revealed, perhaps not. Regardless, the power of Pagano’s writing is, I think, evident:

The Lake’s Favorite:

I was the lake’s favorite.

I loved my life by the lake so much that it was worth going away for awhile, if only for the pleasure of coming back.

The Jigsaw Puzzle:

We were just wondering how to tell our daughter, when she came down into the kitchen. She flew to the door with a joy that left us speechless. Her little hand fumbled at the handle; I had to help her turn it. For her, the fallen tree was no more dead than before, it was simply transformed into a tree house.

The Short Cut:

She lied herself a comfortable life, forgetting her childhood fears, but they returned once the children were grown up, they came back, they’d always been there most likely…

She suffered from the heaviness of a body that feels like lead when you don’t want to live any more.

Blind Spots:

Lots of people go about with blinkers, not just on the motorways. They’re not really driving their lives. I mean, not leading their lives. Instead of leading their own lives, they let themselves be carried along in their restricted view of things. Social conventions, appearances, all those things, you know, all those things that shrink your field of vision. Our vision. We don’t see anything else, nothing of what’s at the edges.

The Loony and the Bright Spark:

The man was one of those people who ‘haven’t their peace’. That’s how we describe them around here, our loonies. He worked at the social enterprise down in the town. He lost his peace by the side of the road one evening at about five o’clock when his wife and children were killed on the bend going down, more than forty years ago…

This tormented waiting that we can’t comprehend, this disaster, it’s him, it’s what’s inside his head, it’s the whole of him that we thought we knew but that goes beyond our knowledge. He goes beyond the figure we made of him that we thought we could reduce him to.

Mum at the Park:

When she was young, she didn’t play the same sorts of games as we did. She daydreamed among the trees, did jigsaw puzzles without getting bored, spent lots of time drawing and already read a lot…

Mom used to say that silence doesn’t exist, that there are always tiny sounds in the background, muted and barely perceptible. And she was an expert in barely perceptible things. Her whole childhood was made up of them.

The Automatic Tour Guide:

My little sister’s death doesn’t need inventing, and when he tells it to the people staying in the gîte he doesn’t embellish it with local color. He delivers it straight, raw, hardly like a story at all…

My sister rain off towards the tractor but I didn’t, I knew we weren’t allowed, and I told her not to but she didn’t listen, that two-year-old silly. Father came out again almost straight away, still cross, went back to the filed and got on the tractor. He started it up again, and when he heard me screaming louder and higher than the sound of the engine, when he felt the tiller jam, he was really beside himself, absolutely furious this time.

Just a Dad:

My dad knew just what to do, what to say and what not to say, everything the therapist would never understand.

Three Press-ups and Unable to Die:

I’ve had more than enough of myself, I must get rid of this self. I’m leaving me. Other people provide no refuge: they mass together instead of lightening my load, they lay their own armour upon my already overburdened carcass and their touch is heavy. Other people are an excess weight, my children especially. I can’t do it any longer, can’t carry anyone, anything more.

The Dropout:

You’d seen my face somewhere and here it was now in front of you, in front of you and elsewhere in an elusive memory, my recognized but unrecognized face, my face on the tip of your tongue. You smiled as if to thank me.


For a book to change us, to cleanse us, it must get deep inside, and those pink books, as I’ve told them hundreds of times stay on the surface. They reach only the outer layers of our skin, our thoughts and memories. They smooth over worries with illusory balm, like the anti-wrinkle creams that my friends spread on their faces…I’m alive and I read real books. Not dead books that simply submit to being read.

About the author: Emmanuelle Pagano was born in Rodez, France, in 1969. Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and she has won many awards for her work, including the EU Prize for Literature in 2009 and, most recently, the Prix du Roman d’Écologie in 2018. This is her second book to appear in English. The first, Trysting, was published in 2016 by And Other Stories.

About the translators: Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis translated Pagano’s previous collection, Trysting, to much acclaim. Individually, Higgins has translated numerous books from French and Italian, and Lewis’s translations have been shortlisted for the Scott oncrieff Prize and the Republic of Consciousness Prize.

(Thanks to Peirene Press for their willingness to send me this copy to review.)

Find an excellent review from Reading in Bed.

Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné (“…one must learn to accept the unacceptable.”)

What happens when we are confronted with a terror so deep that our very world tilts? Some, perhaps, become a blob of jelly, amoeba-like, such as the narrator’s mother. Others, like her brother, Sam, turn the terror into a predator.

These two beautiful children, brother and sister, hear “Flower Waltz” by Tchaikovsky, and know that the ice cream man’s truck is coming. The brother orders vanilla and strawberry; his sister orders chocolate and stracciatella in a cone with whipped cream, and while I am contemplating the joy of that, I am utterly unprepared for what happens next.

For the siphon from which the whipped cream is dispensed explodes. Right in the ice-cream man’s face. It is totally obliterated, as the children look on in disbelief, and then he crumples to the ground.

This incident happens on page twenty-five of a book with two hundred and thirty-four pages. It is a horrific accident, setting the stage for the novel with an impact in keeping with their father’s violence. He is a hunter of animals, and a terror to his wife and children.

I had noticed that when my father started to become edgy, she (my mother) served red meat, as if she hoped that the bloody flesh would calm his rage. But I knew that blood wouldn’t calm him. He had to penetrate living flesh, be it with his fist or a .22 caliber bullet. (p. 111)

Our narrator hears a hyena’s laugh, as if it is real, and knows that vermin are eating her brother Sam’s brain. For surely, if they weren’t, he would not torture the neighborhood’s cats. Or, their mother’s beloved goat, Cumin, whom is so lovingly cared for in their garden.

What can this girl, bravely struggling to grow up, do? She determines that she will build a machine to go back in time, to erase the occurrence of tragedy that has come into their life. And she actually believes, with an eight year old’s faith, that this is possible. Until she learns of Marie Curie, and decides that science is the solution to solving Sam’s problem with violence.

To that extent, she excels in school, and she begins taking private tutoring lessons with Professor Pavlovic, a man from Tel Aviv whose wife wears a mask. It is literally a mask which hides her face, for her story is also one of incredible strength and courage. Her husband lovingly, and tenderly, cares for her in their home.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up with a father so cruel, with a mother so passive, with circumstances so horrific. Yet, it is a lovely thing to see courage grow strong in a wound. Adeline Dieudonné brings her heroine to life in this coming of age novel. We see the child grow to a young woman and embark on a new life, a real life which has overcome adversity and discovered hope.

Real Life by Adeline Dieudonne, translated from the French by Roland Glasser, was published in the U.S. on February 4, 2020. I am grateful to World Editions for the opportunity to participate on the blog tour listed above.

About the author: Adeline Dieudonné is a Belgian author and lives in Brussels. Real Life, her debut novel, was published in France in Autumn 2018 and has since been awarded most of the major French literary prizes: the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, the Prix Goncourt—Le Choix de la Belgique, the Prix de Étoiles du Parisien, the Prix Premiere Plume, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian. (Back cover)

About the translator: Roland Glasser was born in London, studied in Aberystwyth, and lived in Paris for a decade, pursuing twin careers in translation and the performing arts. His translation of Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 won the Etisalat Prize for Literature 2016 and was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and the Best Translated Book Award. Authors he has translated include Anne Cuneo, Martin Page, Marc Pouyet, Julien Aranda, and Stéphanie Garner. Roland is a co-founder of The Starling Bureau – a London-based collective of literary translators.

The Years by Annie Ernaux (translated from the French by Alison L. Strayer, Man Booker International Prize 2019): Addendum


I have begun this book several times and been impressed until I get halfway through. There are brilliant insights into life in France, life in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the life of a girl growing up in such a time frame. Consider these quotes:

Religion was the sole font of morality. It bestowed human dignity, without which our lives would resemble those of dogs.


Only teachers were allowed to ask questions. If we did not understand a word or explanation, the fault was ours.


The future is too immense for her to imagine. It will happen, that’s all.

Annie Ernaux explores memory, both hers, her family’s, and even the world’s at large. “Where were you,” she asks, “on September 11, 2001?”

I love these quotes regarding our memories:

Like sexual desire, memory never stops. It pairs the dead with the living, real with imaginary beings, dreams with history.


They were saddled with other people’s memories and a secret nostalgia for the time they’d missed by so little, along with the hope of living it one day…

But. Halfway through this memoir, a piece which was the co-winner of the 2019 French-American Foundation Translation Prize in Nonfiction, yet was included in the Man Booker International Prize which awards the “best, eligible full-length novel”, I became so weary I had to lay it down. Endless streams of observations like this, pertinent as some may be, became exhausting to read.

Clearly the official judges, and the members of the Shadow Jury, do not agree with me. They have given reason, plausible I’m sure, as to why The Years should be included as a piece of fiction. Perhaps that is all that needs to be said: our memories are not fully real.

Do not be surprised to see this on the Shadow Jury’s short list, nor, I dare say, on the official short list. It just won’t be on mine.

(Thanks to Fitzcarraldo Editions for a copy of The Years to review.)

Addendum: After reading this interview with The Guardian, my dislike for The Years became clearer to me.