cover image The Young Man

The Young Man

Annie Ernaux, trans. from the French by Alison L. Strayer. Seven Stories, $13.99 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-1-64421-320-9

Nobel Prize winner Ernaux (The Years) recounts her yearlong affair with a man three decades her junior in this slim yet stunning memoir. After the man, a student referred to here only as “A,” made several attempts to contact Ernaux about her work, she began seeing and sleeping with him in 1998, when he was 24 and she was 54. Initially trepidatious, Ernaux quickly became enchanted by the ways A. helped her “travel through all the ages of [her] life,” stirring memories of her own time as a student and reminding her of the working-class roots she’d learned to weed out in adulthood. Remarkably clear-eyed about the relationship’s pitfalls and pleasures, Ernaux shares, in fragments, the ways it provoked within her both a sense of righteousness (“Any fifty-something guy could carry on openly with a woman obviously not his daughter without arousing disapproval”) and sadness (“More and more it seemed to me that I could continue to accumulate images, experiences, years, and no longer feel anything but repetition itself”). Eventually, the sadness took over, and Ernaux ended their relationship in the fall of 1999, “happy to be entering the third millennium alone and free.” Throughout, she suffuses even simple moments—a brasserie lunch, a glimpse out of the window at her lover’s house—with a kind of magic, seamlessly layering the perspectives of her current and former selves. The result is a poignant and essential addition to Ernaux’s oeuvre. (Sept.)