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The Years interview

The Years interview

‘I was exhilarated by passages that seem to take flight, in which one is swept across decades of time.’ Read our Man Booker International Prize 2019 longlist interview with translator Alison Strayer & author Annie Ernaux who gives us a taste of what her book is about.



Annie Ernaux, author of The Years


What has it been like to be longlisted?

I have the feeling of an immense opening as if The Years, which covers such a long period of time, were being deployed into space. It is, of course, a great joy and an honour.


Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book The Years?


The Years is a narrative of the period 1941 to 2006 in France told through the lens of memory, impressions past and present, cultural habits, language, photos, books, songs, radio, television, advertising and news headlines. It is both a personal book, about a woman's life, beginning in 1941, and an attempt to write a collective autobiography of a generation.


For the generation you write about in The Years, what was the most significant historical 



The most important historic event of that generation, which affected all men and all women, was the mastery of reproduction in the twentieth-century thanks to contraception.




Alison Strayer, translator of The Years


What has it been like to be longlisted?


It is a wonderful surprise and a homage to the sweeping, kaleidoscopic work that is Les Années, which it was my immense privilege to live inside throughout the months of its translation.


What did you most like about translating The Years?


The Years is a vast and variegated book and so, not surprisingly, it presented numerous joys and challenges for a translator. I loved the different rhythms, voices, tempos, styles; its shape-shifting quality, the expansion and contraction of narrative point of view between collective and intimate forms of memory. I was exhilarated by passages that seem to take flight, in which one is swept across decades of time. This palpable movement is carried by certain marathon sentences, like long unbroken breaths. Chocked with disparate detail (objects, trends, events), they unfold over whole paragraphs without a full stop. The trick lay in trying to make them flow and fly again, but with English rhythms, sonority and (there's the rub!) punctuation.


What are the challenges in translating the ‘collective’ voice into English?


 It differed a little each time the matter arose. To convey what she calls the 'collective I', Annie Ernaux primarily employs the nous or the on, both of which I usually translated as “we”. However, I also translated on as “one”, for the sake of sonority and rhythm, formality, neutrality... Very occasionally I used the impersonal “you”. It is common, in French-to-English translation, when the subject of the French sentence is on, to translate into the passive voice (for example, on fait la queue becomes "people are queueing up"). The result can be windy and unwieldy; however in The Years, happily, the passive voice could be used with effect to convey a transpersonal - collective - voice.