Annie Ernaux: “I’m used to seeing things in my face! »By Christophe Kantcheff and Vanina Delmas

The publication of a short story, The young manthat of a “Cahier de l’Herne” dedicated to her, and soon, at Cannes, selected for Director’s Fortnight, the screening of a film she made with her son, David Ernaux-Briot (1): Annie Ernaux takes middle stage.

The author of Years (2) agreed to receive us at her home in Cergy. First to discuss its editorial news. Especially this short text, a short story, written in the late 1990s and resumed in 2020, where she tells about the relationship she had with a student in Rouen when she was in her fifties. . Then to discuss his views, his commitment to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the aspirations of left-wing union, feminism or old age. As she explains here, the notion of time is central to The young manwhere the narrator is in one “time gap”. Seen from a different perspective and all things considered, this meeting with Annie Ernaux, who could no longer be available, also took place as if the clocks had stopped for a moment. These two and a half hours of maintenance went like a magic wand.

Is The young man tell a love story?

Annie Ernaux: Everything I experienced with him was a second time. I was seduced by the prospect of an unusual story, with this “revival” side. There was love on both sides, but probably less on mine. Because you do not experience things twice with the same intensity. It is not easy passion at all! There is no violence easy passion. Otherwise another violence, but not that of love. A violence where society is present.

I wonder what is left of us when we are absent.

Every love story is special. This one had a strong coefficient of strangeness from the start. Not just because of the age difference. Also because of the proximity of social origin, except that as a class defector I had switched to the other side. Through him, it is my social class that comes back to me, but in the 1990s. And there is Rouen. City that belongs to my life, from my childhood. I studied there. All the places I had visited were still there, even though their use was sometimes no longer the same. Another incredible sign: his apartment overlooked the former Hôtel-Dieu, which was being transformed into a prefecture, the hospital where I was after my secret abortion in 1964. This would soon be the subject of a text that coming, The event.

You write about this: “There were in this surprising, almost unheard of coincidence, signs of a mysterious encounter and of a story to be lived.”

Perhaps it is the influence of surrealism that characterized my youth. I took my master’s degree, as we said at the time, about women and love in surrealism. Therefore, a love story for me is always a bit Nadja – it ends badly, huh! – Where Crazy love.

“Our relationship could be viewed from the perspective of profit”, you say. The expression is disturbing, about a love story …

Yes, I used to face it[rires]! There is a similar phrase today: “find your account there”. Even thinking like that shows that I was less committed to the relationship. The extraordinary thing is that I started writing this text in 1998 while I was still with him. But I write already in the past. What we still see in the text is that we stand together in front of society when it looks at us.

Is the representation, still subversive today, of a couple where the woman is older than the man, the main motivation for the publication of this book?

Not really, though it does matter. Above all, I wanted to show the temporal gap I was in. A sentence says this: “I was out of age and drifting from time to time in semi-consciousness.” I was torn from my generation by being with him. But I was not in his for all that. I had known the same precariousness when I was a student, lived in the same little freezer apartment, etc. But when I am with the “young man”, there is my whole life between the two.

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