Getting to read Annie Ernaux while on holiday on beautiful Skye is me in my literal and literary happy place.
In Mémoire de fille (A Girl’s Story), Ernaux charts her painful coming of age, from just before turning 18 in summer 1958. This is autobiography as catharsis but also the search for self knowledge. Ernaux writes down this two-year period of her life because she has to; as she says at the start of the book, she always comes back to “the girl of ’58”.
Like nothing else I’ve read, Ernaux conveys the sense of alienation of being a teenaged girl. Being uncomfortable in your own body, not knowing how to be and trying to navigate what other people expect of you. This is also a brilliant exploration of coming to terms with uncertainty and feeling unmoored — both as experienced in the present but also viewed from the future, looking back at your younger self and knowing only now, with the incontrovertible proof of time and events, that you would get through it.
Ernaux expresses it perfectly in the final sentence. After finishing writing, she finds a note setting our her intention for the book: “to explore the gulf between the alarming reality of what happens, at the moment it happens, and the strange unreality that, years later, what has happened assumes.”