Read for: Words and Peace’s Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge.
After Ernaux’s mother died of Alzheimer’s, Ernaux attempted to commemorate her mother by writing about her to, “capture the real woman, the one who existed independently from me, born on the outskirts of a small Normandy town and who died in the geriatric ward of a hospital in the suburbs of Paris”.
Ernaux wrote A Woman’s Story over the course of a year after her mother died by way of coming to terms with her grief as well as creating what she hoped would be a fitting tribute to her mother. The story of her progenitor’s life is interesting, well-written and really easy to fall into and power through in one sitting: Ernaux’s mother was a tough lady who worked hard to change her life and claim her place in a totally different social milieu from the one into which she was born. This led to several social and ideological clashes between the two which Ernaux explored over the course of the novel.
There are moments when the narrative breaks off as Ernaux reaches for her grief to see if it’s lessened since the last time she wrote. It is these moments that added depth to the biography of the woman Ernaux knew but also didn’t. The reason these moments were so telling and added so much was that the language used was succinct but not impersonal. The sense of loss, the pain were summed up perfectly with each word provoking an emotional response when I was reading.
At 104 pages, this makes for a quick read that feels much more substantial because of the emotional punch it packs.