Book Review

The Years by Annie Ernaux

cracking under lockdown and stunning books

written on march 22

time is crawling by in the self isolation

there are too many podcasts nwow, too many too many

i try to record songs but my voice is rough through a combination of underuse and the growing pain in my throat that may or may not be the fucking COVID

the dog has to be walked, so i have to go outside, but every time I do I cover my mouth and nose and then because i can’t breathe properly it becomes harder to breathe and i become more anxious and scared because because because well this is scary, isn’t it?

i’m reading a lot, like a book a day (staggering these posts, so it may well end up with me posting corona content weeks after the isolation is lifted)

i’ve still got work, but maybe not for long, almost certainly not for long.

i didn’t buy a nintendo switch but maybe I will if i get my april flights to mexico refunded. maybe i will. maybe i wont

i don’t know what the next few weeks or months will be like – nobody does

am watching lots of films, having been drinking daily but i think that’s going to stop now

i have almost run out of out booze is one reason and there is nowhere more terrifying atm than the booze store (ontario canada with its scandinavian drinking laws) its more terrifying than the supermarket and the pharmacy

i want to stop drinking before it becomes a necessity, because i think in a few days they’ll close down the booze shop as a non-essential business and i want to be able to get drunk in a month’s time if i need to because if one can’t buy liquor due to lockdown i’d rather have some in reserve, rather than drinking the flat dry. does that make sense?

the book i read today was The Years by Annie Ernaux (translated by Alison L. Strayer). I read Ernaux’s more recent memoir, Happening several months ago and was floored by it, and this one was just as good.

First published in 2008 as Les Années, this Fitzcarraldo translation came out in 2018 (with a 2017 US publication of the same text), and it is a memoir that rolls, relentlessly, from 1940 through until about 2006.

Ernaux writes about her own life, but also about “society”: about things that have changed and the ways in which they have, how our relationship with the past has altered, too, and how the constant technological betterment is a more recent development than we like to think.

Though, yes, Ernaux is old enough to remember televisions becoming widespread, but the developments of the internet, home computers and smartphones and the access to communication and information universally is a bigger switch up than from radio to television.

Ernaux muses on Walkmans and how people have become able to immerse themselves in music. I’m doing that now: I’m sat next to a closed window with headphones wrapped around my head listening to a Spotify playlist called “Lo-Fi Beats” and I’m cocooned with just my blog and this music. I might open the window. I might bake some bread later. I’ll probably bake some bread.

It’s only been a week since the venue I work at closed (as I’m typing, the 22nd March 2020), but it feels like a lot has changed. When I watch movies I find myself worried by the fact that characters aren’t sanitising their hands, that no one is wearing a mask, that people aren’t worried about touching bannisters and door handles and-

The content hasn’t caught up. Reading a book that journeys through the personal, political, societal and technological changes of the last seventy/eighty years it seemed strange that it drew to a close before getting to the quarantine, the self-isolation.

What will happen in the now? I don’t know.

I’ll do more baking. I’ll do more reading. I’ll watch some more films.

I’ll arrange and then break plans to do socialising on Skype, because making arrangements to socialise and then breaking those arrangements is a core part of my existence.

In some ways, this isn’t much of a change for me, and to be honest I feel less anxious and depressed than usual.

For someone with mental health issues, my normal attitude towards the world is the attitude that, for once, is appropriate. All my catastrophising and worrying and fear of others is now, correct. Did I write this exact same sentence yesterday?

I shouldn’t be going to social events – like I haven’t wanted to – I should be fearful of standing close to strangers – I should avoid pleasantries and eye contact, I should hold in contempt those who ignore the warnings and are outside in groups together.

Stopped clock syndrome, innit; like all my adult life I was preparing to feel like the world was ending;

I made babganoush two days ago; I made hummus yesterday; i’ve baked bread, i will bake bread again; maybe I’ll make a pie. There are so many options. so much potential baking. and so many books to read

this isn’t a very informative piece about The Years, but it’s a fucking brilliant book.

it’s about the way life accelerates as it goes on, about youth, the end of youth, a mid-life second wind, about becoming old, becoming older;

it’s about family and about fucking and about friendship and career and literature and it’s a beautiful acheivement that made me weep a lot

i mean, i love to weep, it’s not hard to make me weep, but still.

on to the next one…

BUY THE YEARS DIRECT FROM FITZCARRALDO HERE


Download my weird live album via Bandcamp.

Order my raucous poetry collection via Open Pen.

Order my sad prose chapbook via Selcouth Station Press.


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1 comment on “The Years by Annie Ernaux

  1. Pingback: Dark Days by James Baldwin – Triumph Of The Now

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