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EXTERIORS by Annie Ernaux


by Annie Ernaux

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1996
ISBN: 1-888363-31-2
Publisher: Seven Stories

 French novelist/memoirist Ernaux (A Frozen Woman, 1995, etc.) turns conversations overheard and people and places observed into a disturbingly effective documentary record of modern life. Moving outside Paris into one of those ``new towns'' with fabricated city centers and enclosed malls featuring vast stores, Ernaux, trying to understand a place with no past, began keeping a journal. In it she ``sought to describe reality as through the eyes of a photographer,'' trying always to avoid any subjective judgments or reactions, though, inevitably, some people or situations reminded her of her own life and family. A cool writer with an eye for the telling detail, Ernaux collected a variety of precise observations and insights in places as varied as a butcher shop and a Parisian lingerie boutique. Some of the entries, which begin in 1985 and end in 1992, are nearly a page long, others only one or two pithy sentences. Ernaux's France is a gritty, tough- minded place where superstores are the new cathedrals, subways have replaced commuter trains (``you enter Paris along underground tunnels, amid artificial lights, not knowing where you are''), and beggars offer a jarring contrast to the omnipresent consumerism. She watches people on the streets, in the stores, on the subway: a young woman unwrapping her purchases and happily admiring them; a homeless man unself-consciously examining his belly and adjusting his socks; and a mother and daughter in sweat suits and white socks, talking loudly as they ``act out the intimacy of a mother- to-daughter relationship which they see as enviable.'' Even the most mundane activities are, for Ernaux, portents of a rapidly changing world increasingly removed from the one she knew as a child and young adult. Our age's angsts distilled to a wrenching clarity by a writer who knows how to look--and what to look for. (Author tour)