cover image A Frozen Woman

A Frozen Woman

Annie Ernaux. Four Walls Eight Windows, $17 (192pp) ISBN 978-1-56858-029-6

``My whole story as a woman: going down a flight of stairs, and hanging back at each step.'' Always a perceptive writer, French author Ernaux has outdone herself in this sharply painful story of a woman's aspirations slowly picked apart by reality. The narrator is a young woman who isn't so much frozen as caught--between the demands of her body and her mind, between what she can see for herself and what she is told, between being a wife/mother and being an individual. Ernaux's followers will recognize the narrator from Cleaned Out, A Man's Place and A Woman's Story, the daughter of a lower-middle class couple who run a combination grocery and cafe. Her unconventional mother encourages reading and studying at the expense of clean baseboards. For the narrator, adolescence brings the pressures of wanting to be wanted and comparing herself with a pernicious image of feminine perfection so unlike her own noisy, blowzy mother. As she gets older, that image is replaced by another fantasy: the romantic model of a man who will respect her and treat her as an equal. Marriage, a child, a move, a big job for her husband, and in the end, she is a woman who ``has never sat waiting on a bench for the afternoon to go by and the child to grow up.'' It's as though Ernaux has eavesdropped on the cathartic imaginary battles every woman has waged with her parents, her husband, her kids, herself. And while she is acutely self-aware, her writing is never self-pitying. ``Ten years later, I will be the one in a silent, sparkling kitchen, with flour and strawberries: I have stepped into the picture, and it's killing me.'' (May)