Didier Eribon on Ernaux: She captured ‘in one sentence what I couldn’t say in a page.’

Authors worldwide praised Annie Ernaux’s novels on Thursday after she received the Nobel Prize in Literature, but some in France have also been praising her politics, especially for highlighting the struggles of the working class.

Among them was Didier Eribon, the philosopher and sociologist. “I have such admiration for her, not just as a writer, but for her activism,” Eribon said in a telephone call.

Ernaux supported the Yellow Vest movement that, starting in 2018, brought French cities to a standstill while protesting rising fuel prices and declining living standards, Eribon said. She also regularly supported workers who went on strike, and highlighted their plight in her books. “Beyond being a model, I think she gave others permission to write about class-based violence and trauma,” Eribon added.

Eribon first met Ernaux in 2002, shortly after the death of Pierre Bourdieu, a leading French sociologist and globalization critic. She had always been “a great personal inspiration,” he added. When he was writing “Returning to Reims,” a memoir about growing up as a gay child of factory workers, Eribon said he “had a pile of books by Annie Ernaux on my desk, and when I couldn’t find a way to say something, I opened them.”

“She always found a way to capture in one sentence what I couldn’t say in a page,” Eribon added.

Ernaux’s Nobel was “wonderful news,” Eribon said, adding, “Annie Ernaux’s work has marked a renewal in French literature.”

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