Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Annie Ernaux

Author is best known for her account of an illegal abortion she had as a student in France in the 1960s

French author Annie Ernaux. EPA
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French author Annie Ernaux, known for her deceptively simple novels that draw on personal experience of class and gender, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Ernaux, 82, received the prize because of “the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”, the Swedish Academy said.

The French author is best known for Happening, an account of an illegal abortion she had as a university student in France in the 1960s.

Her work is mostly autobiographical.

She has written 20 books, many of which are short, chronicling events in her life and the lives of those around her.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee, said Ernaux’s work was often “uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean".

“She has achieved something admirable and enduring,” he said after the announcement in Stockholm, Sweden.

Ernaux describes her style as “flat writing" with an objective view of the events she describes, unshaped by overwhelming emotions.

In her book A Man’s Place, about her relationship with her father, she writes: “No lyrical reminiscences, no triumphant displays of irony. This neutral writing style comes to me naturally.”

Her most critically acclaimed book was The Years, published in 2008, in which she describes herself and French society from the end of the Second World War to the present day.

Unlike in previous books, in The Years, Ernaux writes about herself in the third person, calling her character “she” rather than “I”. The book received numerous awards.

Ernaux told French broadcaster SVT that the Nobel Prize was a "great honour" and "great responsibility".

Books by French author Annie Ernaux on display at the Swedish Academy after the announcement. AFP

Last year’s prize went to Tanzanian-born writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose novels explore the effects of migration on people and societies.

Gurnah was only the sixth Nobel literature laureate born in Africa, and the prize has long faced criticism that it is too focused on European and North American writers.

It is also male-dominated, with just 17 women among its 119 laureates.

A week of Nobel prize announcements began on Monday with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo receiving the award in medicine for unlocking secrets of Neanderthal DNA that provided insights into the human immune system.

Three scientists ― Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger ― jointly won the prize in physics on Tuesday for their work in quantum mechanics. They were cited for discovering the way particles, known as photons, can be linked, or “entangled”, sharing information with each other, even when they are separated by large distances.

On Wednesday, Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and K Barry Sharpless were awarded the prize for chemistry for their work in developing a way of “snapping molecules together" in click chemistry.

The awards continue with the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, followed by the economics award on Monday.

The prizes carry a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $912,000). The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 12:03 PM