A New York Times Notable Book
A Woman’s Story is Annie Ernaux’s "deeply affecting account of mothers and daughters, youth and age, and dreams and reality" (Kirkus Reviews). Upon her mother’s death from Alzheimer’s, Ernaux embarks on a daunting journey back through time, as she seeks 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." She explores the bond between mother and daughter, tenuous and unshakable at once, the alienating worlds that separate them, and the inescapable truth that we must lose the ones we love. In this quietly powerful tribute, Ernaux attempts to do her mother the greatest justice she can: to portray her as the individual she was. She writes, "I believe I am writing about my mother because it is my turn to bring her into the world."
For this Prix Renaudot-winning author, childhood was not just a time of life but a cottage industry. A trilogy of books intersect at her youth: the story of Ernaux's father, told in La Place ; her semi-autobiographical first novel, Cleaned Out ; and A Woman's Story . In this work, the woman of the title is the author's mother and the story is a brief, aching requiem for an intense but qualified relationship. Ernaux's mother (she is never named), who was born in a small town in Normandy where she saw the fruition of the ``only ambition which lay within her reach: running a grocery business,'' finally succumbs to Alzheimer's disease. This life's very commonness presents difficulties for her daughter who is both ashamed of her mother and aware of the immense difficulties the woman surmounted to give her daughter something better. ``It was only when my mother . . . became history that I started to feel less alone and out of place in a world ruled by words and ideas, the world where she had wanted me to live.''