... brief, loosely related descriptions ... through car parks, checkout queues, graffiti, the techniques of beggars, and conversations overheard on the RER (train), we are given insight into the particularities of the lives being lived around Ernaux, as well as her quest to analyse and understand life in the round. This includes, throughout, analysis of her own contradictory role as both participant and observer. One of Ernaux’s most idiosyncratic qualities is how she never lets us forget her role as author ... By upsetting our complacency, she encourages readers to continually question her writing, and thus art generally ... it is admirable for its quiet grace as well as its audacity in a willingness to note (and thus make noteworthy) the smallest parts of life. It’s a masterclass in understatement, a quality difficult to find nowadays, in literature or life (this sentence being a prime example). It offers no conclusions or epiphanies, nor any brass section theorising. By focusing on surface appearances and remaining as factual as possible, Exteriors requires of the reader real, effortful contemplation to glean meaning...akin to poetry, or painting. It’s so understated, in fact, that I’m not sure a publishing house would touch it now were it from an unknown author. And what a shame. Thank God for Annie Ernaux.
... void of emotion and meaning, focusing instead on the physical world—things, people, and their actions ... I believe that...pitiful character summaries made Exteriors even stronger; they’re honest and quick, and sound like the mind, rather than some beautified version of it. With that being said, there are a handful of scenes so specific that I wonder how she recorded them ... There is a ghostlike quality to Exteriors, even in the title. The author is a spectator, rarely ever participating in the world around her ... a lot of the entries in Exteriors read like poems, mostly due to their varying lengths and the fact that there’s this subtle, understatedness to them, which can be taken at face-value or reread and mined for universal truths. Although, in my opinion, both methods are equally fruitful ... a lonely book. It’s dark and loud, at times nauseating, but golden. It forces one to cherish what’s been given to them, and recognize that peace cannot exist without a little bit of chaos.
Little of what Elkin writes is unto itself that interesting: she sees women in red hats, a pair of awful glittery sandals, a mom with kids who kick and squirm. The observations are hurried and unedited. Some moments are inconsequential, some affecting, and all merit her attention ... What Ernaux...embrace[s] is the collectiveness of urban life, its inherent and unavoidable communion. Although anonymous amongst the crowds, we are all, as Ernaux writes, 'secretly play[ing] a role in the lives of others.'