A FROZEN WOMAN by Annie Ernaux


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 French writer Ernaux (Simple Passion, 1993, etc.) continues her thinly disguised fictional autobiography, this time recalling with numbing intensity her passage to a womanhood trapped by convention and domesticity. The unnamed narrator reworks some old ground as she describes growing up in a bourgeois but unconventional family. Her parents operated a small convenience store, a ``landscape'' where there were no ``mute, submissive women.'' Her father peeled potatoes, her mother kept the books, and both encouraged their daughter to excel at school. ``Dust doesn't exist for her [mother], or rather it's something natural, not a problem,'' and her mother teaches the narrator that ``the world is made to be pounced on...enjoyed...that there is absolutely no reason at all to hold back.'' But as the protagonist grows up, even though her parents spare her ``the idea that little girls are gentle and weak, and that they have different roles to play,'' she learns otherwise from her classmates. They boast of their mothers' domestic talents; then, as they grow older, it's fashion and boys. By high school, though tempted by their thinking, the narrator continues to aim for higher education and a career. In her final year of college, her resistance weakens when she falls in love and marries. Soon, she feels trapped by domesticity, and when pregnancy interrupts her finals she's desperate; even the furniture is an ``insidious entrapment'' demanding to be cared for. She completes her degree, starts teaching, then finds, like all women, that she has two jobs: Men are free after work; the supermarket is her reward ``for going out.'' Finally, another pregnancy and unending housework lead to her admission that ``pursuing a career'' is best left to men. She teaches part-time, her husband is successful, she wears expensive clothes, but she's a ``frozen woman.'' Very Gallic, very rational, very true. But, still, of all Ernaux's writing: the most polemical and arid.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1995
ISBN: 1-56858-029-0
Page count: 160pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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