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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I have no idea which words will come to me. I have no idea where my writing will take me. I would like to stall this moment and remain in a state of expectancy. Maybe I’m afraid that the act of writing will shatter this vision, just like sexual fantasies fade as soon as we have climaxed.

“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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The author of some twenty works of fiction and memoir, Annie Ernaux is considered by many to be France’s most important literary voice. She won the Prix Renaudot for A Man's Place and the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her body of work. More recently she received the International Strega Prize, the Prix Formentor, the French-American Translation Prize, and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation for The Years, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.