Annie Ernaux



Excerpt from Happening

For many years I celebrated the night of January 20-21 as an anniversary.

Now I know that this ordeal and this sacrifice were necessary for me to want to have children. To accept the turmoil of reproduction inside my body and, in turn, to let the coming generations pass through me.

I have finished putting into words what I consider to be an extreme human experience, hearing on life and death, time, law, ethics and taboo ‒ an experience that sweeps through the body.

I have rid myself of the only feeling of guilt in connection with this event: the fact that it had happened to me and I had done nothing about it. A sort of discarded present. Among all the social and psychological reasons that may account for my past, of one I am certain: these things happened to me so that I might recount them. Maybe the true purpose of my life is for my body, my sensations and my thoughts to become writing, in other words, something intelligible and universal, causing my existence to merge into the lives and heads of other people.

Excerpted from Happening by Annie Ernaux,
printed with permission of Seven Stories Press.
Translated from the French by Tanya Leslie.
Copyright © 2000 by Éditions Gallimard.
English translation copyright © 2001 by Seven Stories Press.
Original title: L’événement


Excerpt from Shame

One evening ‒ it was our last day ‒ in Tours, we had dinner in a brightly-lit restaurant where the walls were lined with mirrors, frequented by a sophisticated clientele. My father and I were seated at the end of a long table set up for the group. The waiters were paying little attention to us; we had to wait a long time between courses. At a small table nearby sat a girl aged fourteen or fifteen, suntanned, in a low-cut dress, and an elderly man who appeared to be her father.

They were talking and laughing quite freely, completely at ease, oblivious of other people. She was dipping into a thick milky substance in a glass ‒ some years later I learnt this was yogurt, which people like us had never heard of. l caught sight of myself in the mirror, pale and sad-looking with my spectacles, silently sitting beside my father, who was staring into the far distance. I could see everything that separated me from that girl yet I wouldn’t have known what to do to resemble her.

Afterward, my father complained with unusual vehemence about this restaurant, where he claimed we had been served mashed potatoes made with “pig slop,” white and tasteless. Several weeks later, he was still venting his anger over the meal and its disgraceful “pig slop.” Although he never actually said so ‒ it was probably then that I began decoding his speech ‒ it was his way of expressing resentment at having been treated with contempt because we were not chic customers who ate “à la carte.”

Excerpted from Shame by Annie Ernaux,
printed with permission of Seven Stories Press.
Translated from the French by Tanya Leslie.
Copyright © 1997 by Éditions Gallimard.
English translation © 1998 by Seven Stories Press.
Original title: La honte

To cite this section
MLA style: Annie Ernaux – Prose. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Fri. 29 Sep 2023. <>

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