I have enjoyed all of Annie Ernaux's 'romans autobiographiques' in their original French, over the last few years, including the French original of 'I remain in Darkness', the rendering of a French title which literally translates as 'I have not come out of my Darkness/my Night'.
The concept of the oxymoronically-termed 'autobiographical novel' seems to be championed by Ernaux and other present-day French writers. Over the years, Ernaux has written very intimate texts about herself, her parents, significant life events and about French society as a whole. In one work, she recounts how, one Sunday afternoon when she was aged twelve, her father tried to kill her mother. In another work, while she is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for breast cancer, her lover comments that she is the first woman he has been with whose vagina doesn't have pubic hair. In another work, she and her much younger lover take photographs, on the mornings after their lovemaking, of the clothes, shoes and other objects strewn randomly about the floor of their apartment the night before as they passionately undressed and made their way to the bedroom. In yet another text, Ernaux speaks openly about her affair with a Russian diplomat and her obsessive passion and jealousy throughout their affair.
But perhaps the most brutally honest and shocking image of all is that of the foetus which she flushes down the toilet as a young university student, following a horrific backstreet abortion.
I focus on the foregoing images because what I most admire about Ernaux is her fearless self-revelation. She regularly shocks her reader. She is as controversial and as provocative as her compatriot, Marguerite Duras, in the extent of her self-disclosure.
But does she merely set out to be controversial for the sheer hell of it? I believe not. Personally, she has inspired me to be similarly self-revealing in my own writings. So I have begun to write about personal areas, intimate spaces of my life which I would have previously considered it unthinkable to share. Perhaps to write about such issues is cathartic for Ernaux and for her readers.
Annie Ernaux's writings have given me the courage to speak publicly and write about the intensely private areas of sexuality, coming out, coping with depression and obsessive anxieties, dealing with the jealousy of others as well as my own jealousy, being bullied as well as bullying, my recurring nightmares about my parents who died within a few months of each other. Nightmares in which they repeatedly suffer, disintegrate and die. Death is rehearsed over and over again.
So if and when I write my own 'roman autobiographique', it will certainly be dedicated to, and inspired by, Annie Ernaux.
I welcome this and other translations of her works into English, as literary translation helps to spread the important 'memes' of the highly original, thought-provoking texts of writers such as Ernaux.