Happening by Annie Ernaux, translated from the French by Tanya Leslie
Published by Seven Stories Press, 2001
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Her writing is straightforward yet impactful, and she certainly doesn’t shy away from depicting the physical and emotional toll of what she went through – a botched attempt to self-administer the treatment, a visit to an abortionist, the resulting miscarriage, and hospitalisation following complications. It’s upsetting and visceral to read at times, but so too was the experience itself.
Though relatively brief, the account also reflects on the kind of social and religious stigma that surrounded the issue – and which continues to cause divides to this day. With this, she raises the killer question: is something illegal because it’s wrong, or is something wrong because it’s illegal?
It was Ernaux’s reasons for documenting the experience that really struck me. Her story highlights how far we’ve come medically and socially, but also the very real issue of many people still not having access to safe abortions. She explains the lasting impact the event had throughout the rest of her life, and sees putting it on the page as a way of processing it on a personal level, but she also recognises the importance of people sharing experiences publicly to acknowledge the suffering that can result from patriarchal systems and a lack of access to proper healthcare. After all, progress does not erase history; it is built on it.
There are no big moments of revelation here, and no grand conclusions to be drawn; this is simply a woman determined to reclaim her truth decades on. By chronicling the traumatic ordeal she was forced to endure by a system that failed her, she and fellow victims may at last feel vindicated rather than vilified.
You can pick up a copy of Happening by clicking here.