``I REMAIN IN DARKNESS'' by Annie Ernaux


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A small, powerful, and overwritten memoir of a mother’s slow deterioration and death in a nursing home. Ernaux is a prize winning author (A Man’s Place, 1992, also translated by Leslie) whose mother had been strict, controlling, but loving. When her aging, widowed mother first fell ill, Ernaux took her home. However, as her mother’s senility turned into mind-wasting Alzheimer’s disease, the author had her placed in an old-age home, where she visited and wrote this journal. This emotionally charged scenario has been handled before, notably in Rodger Kamenetz’s Terra Infirma (1998). Erneaux’s memoir is at its most effecting when describing details, such as her mother losing her glasses, dentures, modesty, posture, and possessiveness—rather than telling us she’s losing her mind and body. Too often, however, poignant scenes are dampened by the memoirist’s insistence on spelling things out. She precedes the heartbreaking realization that her mother “thinks that I have come to take her away and that she is going to leave this place” with the neon signs indicating that “it’s beyond sadness” and promising “painful moments.” Her disheveled mother is soiled with excrement, has to be spoon-fed, her right hand “grasping the left like an unknown object,— yet Ernaux remarks: “I have no idea what she thought of sex or how she made love.” The author is either in deep trouble or is French. Readers of all nationalities will sympathize with Ernaux’s having to be her mother’s mother, the good and bad memories of her girlhood evoked by these horrific scenes and emotions, and her tortured feelings of guilt in moments when she hates this former provider for draining her so. The pain doesn’t ease at journal’s end, when Ernaux’s mother abruptly passes away. The impact of this courageous, sometimes unsubtle little book is sure to not pass away quickly.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 1-58322-014-3
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: Seven Stories
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999


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