Annie Ernaux’s Exteriors: The Most Honest Review Ever

Don’t read this book. It’s a fraud.

I don’t normally give book reviews, because I don’t normally read books. They’re a waste of time, and this one sure was.

First, it bills itself as a memoir. Now, when I think of memoir, I think of great men, like myself, doing great things, like own hotels. To my surprise, this memoir was written by a woman. I was immediately suspicious. What has she ever done? The answer is nothing. She rides trains all day and makes observations. I could do that, but I have better things to do. And for this kind of crap someone decided this Annie Ernaux woman should be awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature. It just confirms why I never had any respect for that award.

Second, Annie Ernaux has no friends. Nor should she. She’s a voyeur who is obsessed with eavesdropping on strangers – as if strangers can tell us anything about ourselves or our world. Yet, she seems to think so. Here’s something stupid she said. “It is other people – anonymous figures glimpsed in the subway or in waiting rooms – who revive our memory and reveal our true selves through the interest, the anger or the shame that they send rippling through us.”

The only time a stranger ripples me is when she’s sexy. Then the hunt is on, and she won’t be a stranger for long.

Knowgood Carp, Owner of all the Hotels on Block Island and some in Connecticut

Annie Ernaux’s Exteriors: A Stranger’s Connection

When Annie Ernaux won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature, I had only one question. Who is Annie Ernaux? Why have I never heard of her? Is she French or something? That’s where the internet comes in handy. She’s French. Regardless, I picked up one of her books, Exteriors, which was first published in English in 1996. It’s short, curious and rewarding.

Ms. Ernaux believes a “hypermarket (supermarket) can provide just as much meaning and human truth as a concert hall.” That concept has been expressed before, but not quite the way Ms. Ernaux presents it. She writes in a hyper-detached style, as if she’s a scientist. She focuses only on the essential. Unicorns do not prance on these pages. Exteriors purports to be a memoir, but there is no sustained narrative. The book consists of written snapshots of complete strangers. Her observations are more akin to sparse journal entries.

Still, it is literary and themes do emerge. Ms. Ernaux describes contemporary society as purely transactional. Tacky consumerism pervades everything. She’s not a fan of the ruling classes either. Their obvious disdain for the working classes is oppressive and depressing. The few relationships presented tend to be dysfunctional. Ms. Ernaux does not interact with anyone except the reader.

So why does Ms. Ernaux write about the strangers she observes on the train or at the mall? I enjoy being a voyeur as much as anyone, but is this mere voyeurism? Ms. Ernaux thinks not. “It is other people – anonymous figures glimpsed in the subway or in waiting rooms – who revive our memory and reveal our true selves through the interest, the anger or the shame that they send rippling through us.”

In a crass world, there can still be profound connections, even with strangers. A child on the train reminds Ms. Ernaux of her sons when they were young. A woman waiting in line reminds her of her deceased mother. “So it is outside my own life that my past existence lies: in passengers commuting on the subway or the RER; in shoppers glimpsed on escalators . . . in complete strangers who cannot know that they possess part of my story; in faces and bodies which I shall never see again. In the same way, I myself, anonymous among the bustling crowds . . . must secretly play a role in the lives of others.”

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Nobel Prize Winner Has a Foot Fetish

Part-time writer and full-time foot fetishist, Olga Tokarczuk, won the Nobel Prize for Literature (Silly Languages Category) in 2018. Having never heard of her (and unable to find anything about her on, we concluded she does not exist.

However, we stumbled across her book, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones, in Book No Further, which is not the worst book shop in Roanoke. According to the book’s cover, Ms. Tokarczuk is from Poland and inexplicably writes in Polish, which explains why we and TMZ never heard of her. As an aside, writing in Polish seems to be a poor marketing decision – one that she should reconsider if she hopes to have any success.

As made clear in Drive Your Plow, Ms. Tokarczuk loves feet and William Blake – for many of the same reasons. Early on the narrator confesses that she must wash her feet thoroughly before going to bed. Perhaps this is because “[i]t is in the feet that all knowledge of Mankind lies hidden; the body sends them a weighty sense of who we really are and how we relate to the earth.” But if you need more proof of her fanaticism for feet, Big Foot is the name of the first character to die in this fantastical murder mystery. (Spoiler alert).

So according to Ms. Tokarczuk (and by extension, all of Poland), feet are not weird and disgusting. What is weird and disgusting is our concept of reality. The narrator argues that humans are programmed to reject reality; that the “human psyche evolved in order to defend us against seeing the truth . . . The psyche is our defense system – it makes sure we’ll never understand what’s going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering.” Major theme alert: don’t trust your brain, trust your feet. So that’s weird.

Drive Your Plow is a wonderfully unusual murder mystery. At times the reader is swept away with philosophical discussions on animal rights, astrology, feet, Blake’s poetry, and feet. Then the reader remembers that the body count is now up to three and each death has been grisly. According to the narrator, an older woman who lives alone, free will does not exist. Instead, our lives are controlled by the stars and planets, with the most powerful being Uranus. And this is undoubtedly true – just think of how you fear the whims of Uranus every single day.

For this odd and unreliable narrator, human rights and animal rights are indistinguishable. In fact, animals may have the better claim to Earth. Certainly the Polish winter in this book would be cruel and inhospitable to any person, as we are not born with any practical protections against its harshness. Accordingly, we are fools to believe this world was created for us – so perhaps it was created for the animals. This strident belief drives the narrator and the entire story to a conclusion that probably will not surprise the observant reader. But the joy is in the travel, and at the end the reader is thankful for the Czech Republic. Name one other instance when that has ever happened.

A final word about William Blake. At one time people apparently read him. Ms. Tokarczuk is the only person who still does. There are wonderful quotes and references to Blake throughout the story, and they enrich it. Ms. Tokarczuk is so enthralled with Blake that she compels one of her characters to become a translator of Blake’s poetry into Polish – thereby condemning him to a life of poverty, futility, and anonymity. In a book crammed with horrors, this may be the most horrific of all.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor