I recently read Virgil’s Aeniad and despite the super-glossy modernization by Fagles, it was a good read. Furthermore it fulfilled one of those major milestones of literature life forces on us.
Unfortunately, despite being judged the best book I had read in 2019 (to date), The Aeneid was just another violent epic full of cleaved breastbones, rolling heads, and buckets of blood and gore.
The first gory epic I read was Chanson de Roland. At a very young age I’m sure the carnage was great fun (and prepared me for Ben Vereen on Broadway years later).Since then I have read epics such as Beowulf (in Old English), the Iliad and the Odyssey, and The Lord of the Rings.
But this last month I read a more domestic epic, if you will: Annie Ernaux’ masterful memoir cum history, Les anneés. Here is what the author and reviewer says about Les anneés (The Years):
It will be a slippery narrative,” she writes, “composed in an unremitting continuous tense, absolute, devouring the present as it goes.” It is comprised of her own memories, of historical events, of scraps of popular culture, slang, notes on the subtle transformations of the culture. We encounter the war in Algeria, Sartre and De Beauvoir, Edith Piaf’s “Les Amants d’un Jour” (which “gave us goosebumps”), fondue bourguignonne, Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur, May 1968, the pro-abortion rights manifesto of the 343 salopes, nuclear threat, the explosion of consumerism, unemployment, immigration, the advance of technology. Ernaux captures the ineffable passage of time, which she layers like “palimpsests”, in order to express the “lived dimension of history” and, perhaps more crucially, to “give form to her future absence
This is the best thing Ernaux has written and it knocks Virgil right out of the top spot. Don’t miss this one. It’s written in French, of course, but the English translation is quite adequate.
I see that Les anneés is short-listed for the Mann-Booker International Prize, if you’re into that sort of thing.