it is thrilling to read Ernaux working out, word by word, what she deems appropriate to include in each text. Now 80 years old, and having published more than 20 books, she continues to search for the perfect formula. In being willing to show her discomfort, her disdain and her honest, careful consideration of the dilemmas of writing about real, lived lives, Ernaux has struck upon a bold new way to write memoir.
But at the same time as presenting herself as a pawn on the board of history rather than an individual ego, Ernaux’s voice is striated with personal guilt and grief. “I experience no joy in writing this book,” she says on page 33, and there is little joy for the reader in a memoir that refuses to indulge in the genre’s love of nostalgia, self-pity or sentiment. A child, as the peasant adage goes, should never be better educated than her parents and the book’s epigraph, from Yūko Tsushima, makes plain Ernaux’s understanding of her treachery: “May I venture an explanation: writing is the ultimate recourse for those who have betrayed”. Ernaux is the betrayer and her father the betrayed: this is the narrative undertow that makes A Man’s Place so lacerating.