What a tremendous joy to discover Annie Ernaux. This is an incredible, life-changing read.
L’événement (literally “the event”, English title Happening) is Ernaux’s account of her unwanted pregnancy in her early twenties and eventual abortion at three months in January 1964.
Abortion was illegal in France until 1975 and Ernaux, from a working-class family, lacked the connections and capital necessary to get a termination. Going methodically through her attempts to get help from friends, acquaintances and doctors, Ernaux documents the collective and individual acts of abandonment and control that constitute the refusal of a woman’s right to choose. Only eventually does another woman, who has had an abortion herself, provide her with a way out: a name, an address, and a loan to pay for the abortion.
In a devastatingly matter-of-fact style, Ernaux lays bare the terror, shame and trauma of her experience. And she does so unapologetically. Writing some 30 years later, she frequently breaks from her chronological account of those three months with asides about the narrative choices she is making. My favourite – which she adds after a fairly graphic account of her failed attempt to end the pregnancy with a knitting needle – is this, which I think is one of the most beautiful and perfect arguments for writing in general, and writing by women in particular:
“I believe that any experience, whatever its nature, has the inalienable right to be chronicled. There is no such thing as a lesser truth. Moreover, if I failed to go through with this undertaking, I would be guilty of silencing the lives of women and condoning a world governed by the patriarchy.”
With her sparing, precise, beautiful prose, Ernaux creates a breathtaking monument to the truth.