What Annie Ernaux Owes To Memory

David McAllister at Prospect Magazine:

A novel, which is fiction, can never be classified as nonfiction—indeed, a “nonfiction novel” sounds like a contradiction in terms. This is because when we use these two categories, we are not talking about form or content—as we might with more granular terms, such as autofiction, memoir or biography—but making a judgement call. We are saying: these are the books that tell “the truth”, whereas these are the ones that do not.

Annie Ernaux, the latest recipient of the Nobel prize in literature, exposes the linguistic shallowness of these classifications. She is an author of novels that adopt only the most threadbare fictional guises; a deeply personal memoirist who looks back on her life, as she puts it, “like a historian with a character from the past”; and the writer of an experimental autobiography, The Years, that wound up on the shortlist for an international prize in fiction. Any contradiction or category error here is a quirk of translation. In Ernaux’s native France, the concept of la non-fiction is virtually non-existent; she is at greater liberty than we are to dismiss such poor attempts at labelling. “Our experience of the world cannot be subject to classification,” she writes in Exteriors.

more here.