Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

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Translated by Tanya Leslie

In 1963, Annie Ernaux, 23 and unattached, realizes she is pregnant. Shame arises in her like a plague: Understanding that her pregnancy will mark her and her family as social failures, she knows she cannot keep that child.

This is the story, written forty years later, of a trauma Ernaux never overcame. In a France where abortion was illegal, she attempted, in vain, to self-administer the abortion with a knitting needle. Fearful and desperate, she finally located an abortionist, and ends up in a hospital emergency ward where she nearly dies.

In Happening, Ernaux sifts through her memories and her journal entries dating from those days. Clearly, cleanly, she gleans the meanings of her experience.

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“With the dispassion and efficiency of a military strategist, [Ernaux] ambushes her past, prying it from its refuge in nostalgia and oblivion and holding it up naked for all to see . . . a harrowing account . . . superbly translated.”

“Ernaux . . . writes with clear, controlled precision that is as vivid as it is devastating to read, and which connects the pain and indignity of her experience to class, power and patriarchy.”

“Although the events Ernaux describes so explicitly occurred more than 50 years ago, they retain their horrifying immediacy, and should act as a reminder that her lack of options is the reality for many women worldwide, with access to legal abortion severely restricted or denied. Universal, primeval and courageous, Happening is a fiercely dislocating, profoundly relevant work—as much of art as of human experience. It should be compulsory reading.”

“Ernaux’s work is important. Not just because of her subject matter, but because of the way she hands it over: the subtle contradictions; her dispassionate stoicism, mixed with savagery; her detailed telling, mixed with spare, fragmented text. . . These are not things we vote for. These are not things we judge. These are things that happen. Are happening.”

“An important, resonant work.”

“Ernaux speaks the truth about which women usually keep silent . . . [Happening is] shameless, but overwhelming in its honest.”

“[Ernaux's] style is dense and purified. They story she tells loses its strictly intimate character and becomes the echo of an age.”

Happening contains something absolutely extraordinary, something that can only happen in Ernaux's writing . . . shattering.”

“[M]agnificent . . . Annie Ernaux continues her anatomy of exlclusion and shame.”

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Born in 1940, Annie Ernaux grew up in Normandy, studied at Rouen University, and later taught high school. From 1977 to 2000, she was a professor at the Centre National d’Enseignement par Correspondance. Her books, in particular A Man’s Place and A Woman’s Story, have become contemporary classics in France. Ernaux won the prestigious Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place when it was first published in French in 1984, and the English edition became a New York Times Notable Book. Other New York Times Notable Books include Simple Passion and A Woman's Story, which was also a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist. 

Ernaux’s most recent work, The Years, has received the Françoise-Mauriac Prize of the French Academy, the Marguerite Duras Prize, the Strega European Prize, the French Language Prize, and the Télégramme Readers Prize. The English edition, translated by Alison L. Strayer, won the 31st Annual French-American Translation Prize for non-fiction and is shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. Her new book, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman, will be out from Seven Stories in 2020.