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Reading Annie Ernaux in Translation

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

Annie Erneaux ends her novel The Years with the words, "Save something from the time where we will never be again." This is a novel that harks back to and resonates with Proust and Virginia Woolf. It is the flow of time in the life of a person in a particular context and so the flow and rhythm and specificity of language is important in conveying how people speak, in locating objects and experiences and ideas in time and space. It takes place between 1940 and 2007 in France and many of the references are culturally specific. A long Translator's Note follows the novel delineating all the difficulties involved in translating this novel into English. This struggle can be felt in the English text which regularly lapses into French when no English equivalent can be found, and often relies on footnotes to (partially) explain culturally specific references. It feels as if there is a veil separating me from the actual rhythm and flow of the novel. Though people say that it is better to read The Remembrance of Things Past in English, I read it in French and did not have a problem. But this is a novel that should be read in French if possible.

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