The Year I Torn Through Annie Erno’s Books

When I was living in Paris in 2018, a friend of mine passed Annie Ernault’s book is happening To me it was like an envelope containing a treasure. The diary tells the story of Erno’s 1963 abortion, when the operation took place Illegal in Franceand, like nearly all of her books, is a discovery of memory, the self, and the powers and limits of writing. In the most cliched scene, the narrator, a college student, removes what looks like a “baby doll” from her body “like a grenade” and carries it, still attached to it, in her hand from the dorm bathroom to her room. An acquaintance helps her cut the rope; They place the fetus in an empty Melba toast wrapper. I remember exactly where I was sitting, in a train station, when I read this scene, the astonishment with which I looked from the page at the people walking around, as the book changed something in me.

after, after is happening, I looked up each of Ernaux’s books in English, and read them, one by one, in chronological order. I have never interacted with the work of any other writer in this way – nor have I ever. Reading Erno has become a kind of addiction. I now know that this sentiment is common to many of its readers.

Annie Erno, yesterday’s 82-year-old Nobel laureate, is an unparalleled writer, at least as far as I know, in her frankness, willingness to reveal herself, and showing the seams in her excavations of the past. She extracts her own memory in an honest attempt to “test the limits of writing, and push as close to reality as possible”. In her books, she hides in periods of her life, revisiting “every picture until I feel physically connected to it, until a few words appear, from which I can say, ‘Yes, that’s it’.”

Most of Ernaux’s books are slim, many under 100 pages; Reading it, you witness a woman authentically and transparently trying to find ways to understand herself and connect, through that understanding, with others. She recounts events and interrogates the act of retelling, so that her books are always as much about writing as about the story being told. in girl storyin which she examines her first sexual encounter and its aftermath, tries to understand her own motives for pinning everything on the page:

I wonder what it means for a woman to contemplate the scenes of more than fifty years ago…what is the desire…nurtures the unyielding determination to find, among thousands of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, those that will provide certainty (illusion) after the greatest attainment Possible from reality? What drives her is the hope of discovering even a point of similarity between this girl… and any other being.

There is an intimate connection to Ernault’s work, arising in part from the rigor of its details–her openness about sex, about the illness and death of her parents, about her dread in relationships with middle men–and also from the way her process reveals to the reader as she writes. A number of her books are memoirs in which we witness her mind interacting with the world in real time. The result of this intimacy is that each of us who reads it feels that it is “our relationship” and that our relationship with it is unique.

Erno’s work carries a sense of heightened life, and an unapologetic search for pleasure makes him radically feminist. Written in a diary from 1988, recently published as disorientation. Reading her work, she inspires one to do the same. She invites us into the women’s spaces, and then shows us how we have these common spaces. This is perhaps the most extreme of her work, and about the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor her. “I believe that any experience, whatever its nature, has an inalienable right to date it,” is happening. “There is no such thing as a less important fact.”

In the year I’ve spent reading Ernaux, I’ve often wondered why she was so influenced by me. Eventually I realized that Erno was exactly the type of writer I wanted to be: someone who uses language to help myself, and hopefully for others, to live. I wrote in “What matters is not the things that happen.” girl story, “But what do we do with them?” What is the point of writing, Erno asks, “if not revealing…something that emerges from a wrinkle as the story unfolds, and can help us understand — bear — the events that happen and the things we do?” Her belief in writing inspires me. Bring me back to work.


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