The Pequod Review:
Annie Ernaux's spare and unsettling memoir Happening looks back at a trauma forty years earlier when she obtained an illegal abortion in France. Ernaux, then only twenty-three years old, first tried to abort the baby with a knitting needle, and later found a back-alley abortionist whose rough procedure eventually necessitated a visit to the emergency room. Ernaux's experience remains a painful one and her account could have become too emotive or heartfelt — you can imagine what a major American publisher would do to a story like this — but Ernaux's talent is to bring a stoic and straightforward intelligence to her narrative:
I shall try to conjure up each of the sentences engraved in my memory which were either so unbearable or so comforting to me at the time that the mere thought of them today engulfs me in a wave of horror or sweetness... 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.
Thousands of girls have climbed up stairs and knocked on a door answered by a woman who is a complete stranger, to whom they are about to entrust their stomach and their womb. And that woman, the only person who can rid them of their misfortune, would open the door, in an apron and patterned slippers, clutching a dish towel, and inquire, “Yes, Miss, can I help you?”