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Works of Radical Imagination

Book cover for The Young Man
Book cover for The Young Man


Annie Ernaux's most recent book, dazzling and breathtaking, published in France in 2022, is about her affair with a man 30 years her junior.

“A sublime book.” —Olivia de Lamberterie, Elle

“Once again the work of the writer Annie Ernaux appears as both a rigorous study of life and an experiment. These fragments of living, however evanescent, are precious, irreplaceable, like a skin that never fades.” —Caroline Montpetit in Le Devoir

The Young Man is Annie Ernaux’s account of her passionate love affair with A., a man some 30 years younger, when she was in her fifties. The relationship pulls her back to memories of her own youth and at the same time leaves her feeling ageless, outside of time— together with a sense that she is living her life backwards.

Amidst talk of having a child together, she feels time running its course, and menopause approaching. The Young Man recalls Ernaux as the “scandalous girl” she once was, but is composed with the mastery and the self-assurance she has achieved across decades of writing. It was first published in France in 2022.

Book cover for The Young Man
Book cover for The Young Man

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“Annie Ernaux, the 2022 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is perhaps best known for her deeply intimate and unflinchingly honest approach to personal recollection. This quality is on full display in The Young Man, a slim but powerful memoir about the brief and heated love affair she had with a former student who was 30 years her junior. Brimming with life, vulnerability, and unfettered feeling, Ernaux’s writing is a daring call to live unbounded by convention, answering only to freedom and desire.”

“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. . . . [A]t the start of the strikes against Macron this year, when workers and students once more exploded against the police, the eighty-two-year-old Ernaux appeared at the head of a march: the somewhat dissonant image of the writer, fresh from her Nobel win, who remembers where she came from and still knows whose side she is on. As she told the audience in Stockholm: given her experience as a woman and as a child of the working class, she writes to get revenge.”

“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.”

“The Nobel laureate revisits a love affair with a much younger man. In her latest book to appear in English, Ernaux recounts a brief love affair with A., a man who was 30 years her junior. “He gave me pleasure and made me relive things I would never have imagined experiencing again,” she writes. The book, which is slim, occasionally stark, and very much to the point—more an essay than a full-length volume—is by no means a florid account. Instead, Ernaux candidly describes how the relationship caused her to reexamine not only sex and sensuality, but memory and time itself. . . The major pleasure in reading this book—and it is a major pleasure—comes not so much from gasping over sensual details but from savoring Ernaux’s sentences and the searing clarity of her thinking. It isn’t just that she avoids sentimentality, though she does that, too. It’s that the author can (and does) analyze all kinds of intersecting threads—aging, class, desire, regret—without a sense of shame or an impulse to sugarcoat any of the truths she uncovered during her time with A. She even delves into the possibility of motherhood: “He wanted to have a child with me. This desire troubled me and made me feel the profound unfairness of being in good physical shape but no longer able to conceive.” A crucial addition to Ernaux’s oeuvre.

“[Annie Ernaux]—ever attentive to the dynamics of memory, the dissolution of sex, and the process of writing—knows that this timeless quality isn’t, and can’t be, quite the same as seeing time flow in reverse.”

“A romance on its face, The Young Man gathers singularity and texture as an account of manifold transits: between youth and age, living and dying, in and out of passion, passing through menopause, and from Ernaux’s impoverished beginnings through her ascension into the literary bourgeoisie.”

“Gripping. . . . Nobel prize winning writer Annie Ernaux’s recounts her fervent love affair with A., a man 30 years her junior.”

“When French author and 2022 Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux was in her 50s, she embarked on a brief but passionate love affair with a man nearly 30 years her junior. Her trim, 64-page book The Young Man, first published in France last year and newly translated by Alison Strayer, is a meditation on a dalliance that made her think differently about love, time, and aging.”

“In the sensitive hands of Annie Ernaux and her translator Alison L. Strayer, a slim and seemingly salacious story of a woman’s love affair with a much younger man transforms into a profound exploration of power and domination, of reliving through writing, and of how passion elevates us to a kind of agelessness.”

“In lean prose, [Ernaux] moves from description to scrutiny with accuracy. She writes the way the body recalibrates the past. . . . It is a story that compels us to revisit our own past, and to wonder if we share Ernaux’s unflinching clarity about recognizing the dial of life.”

“Nobel Prize winner Ernaux recounts her yearlong affair with a man three decades her junior in this slim yet stunning memoir. . . . Remarkably clear-eyed about the relationship’s pitfalls and pleasures, Ernaux shares, in fragments, the ways it provoked within her both a sense of righteousness. . . and sadness. . . . The result is a poignant and essential addition to Ernaux’s oeuvre.”

“What Ernaux and Plum together suggest is this: We write to fill the emptiness at the heart of all experience. But the experience of the attempt is a hole at the bottom of a bucket. We keep living. We keep writing toward the unachievable whole.”

Annie Ernaux

The author of some twenty works of fiction and memoir, ANNIE ERNAUX is considered by many to be France’s most important writer. In 2022, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She has also won the Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place and the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her body of work. More recently she received the International Strega Prize, the Prix Formentor, the French-American Translation Prize, and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation for The Years, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. Her other works include Exteriors, A Girl's Story, A Woman's Story, The Possession, Simple Passion, HappeningI Remain in DarknessShameA Frozen WomanA Man's Place, and The Young Man

ALISON L. STRAYER is a Canadian writer and translator. Her work has been shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Literature (for Jardin et prairie, a novel, 2000) and for Translation (Mavis Gallant's A Fairly Good Time, with G. Letarte, 2010), the Grand Prix Littéraire de la Ville de Montréal and the Prix France-Quebec. She lives in Paris.

Other books by Annie Ernaux