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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

"I Remain in Darkness"

Annie Ernaux

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To purchase "I Remain in Darkness"

Title: "I Remain in Darkness"
Author: Annie Ernaux
Genre: Memoir
Written: (1986)
Length: 94 pages
Original in: French
Availability: "I Remain in Darkness" - US
"I Remain in Darkness" - UK
"I Remain in Darkness" - Canada
"Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit" - France
  • These notes were written between 1983 and 1986 but only published in 1997 (English: 1999)
  • Translated by Tanya Leslie
  • French title: Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit

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Our Assessment:

B- : brief notes about a tough, personal subject,

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 14/11/1999 Susan Salter Reynolds
The NY Times B 22/11/1999 Richard Bernstein
The NY Times Book Rev. . 28/11/1999 Kathryn Harrison
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Spring/2000 James Sallis
The Spectator . 5/10/2019 Nicci Gerrard

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly positive, insofar as the critics are being at all judgmental -- which they hardly are

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ernaux's art is in her fight with words." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(A) less gripping work than her earlier works." - Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

  • "In "I Remain in Darkness" (...) Ernaux abandons her search for a larger truth because, in the face of a loss as profound as that of her mother, all attempts to make sense of it have the feel of artifice." - Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Ernaux offers up the notes just as originally written, unguarded, unreconstructed, unadorned. (...) Of the many savage equations emerging here, the most savage is Ernaux's absolute identification with her mother. (...) "I Remain in Darkness" is a very ambitious book." - James Sallis, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The result is a meditation on the gradual loss of agency and identity. Ernaux writes of memory, of love, of loathing, of disgust, of tenderness; she writes about the frail, leaking, helpless, horrifying body, about the porous self. The narrative was always death. Writing was always an act of betrayal. (...) There is an intense claustrophobia in this slim, harrowing memoir. The writer and reader are trapped in the fetid room where her mother lives while outside seasons turn and the world continues like a dream of elsewhere." - Nicci Gerrard, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In the introduction to this book Annie Ernaux explains that her mother went into physical and mental decline in the early 1980s (having been hit by a car and never fully recovering). This book consists of notes Ernaux jotted down between 1983 and her mother's death in 1986. She initially did not even look back at the notes, even while writing A Woman's Story (which covers much of this subject matter), but finally did publish this collection in French in 1997. The title comes from the last sentence that her mother wrote. (Note that the French original reads: "Je ne suis pas sortie de ma nuit." We are loathe to question Tanya Leslie's translation (Ms. Leslie "works closely with the author on the English-language editions of her work" the promotional copy reads) but literally translated the title surely would be something like "I have not gone out of my night" or "come out of my darkness". In any case, it especially seems a shame to lose the my. But that's just our opinion.)
       The notes are fairly harrowing, familiar to anyone close to someone not growing old gracefully. Physical incapacity and dementia ("the doctor mentioned the possibility of Alzheimer's disease") don't make for a pretty picture.
       Helpless Ernaux tries to take care of her mother in her own home, but it is finally no longer possible. In the nursing home the mother then goes to she is treated as best can be expected -- regrettably also inadequately. Among the sadder pictures is of her literally falling apart as she progressively loses her glasses and her false teeth.
       The book is filled with the unpleasant smells and accidents of oldest age, and the almost (but, heartbreakingly, never complete) loss of touch with reality and memory. Ernaux is frank as always, but this is not a cohesive story of decline or loss. These are jottings, of episodes spaced out over a period of years that, all in all, (thankfully ?) don't fill a hundred pages.
       Ernaux is a marvelous writer, and even in these short bits she conveys what she is going through well and simply. Life, unretouched. Certainly it seems an honest (if gruesome) picture, with all the ambivalent feelings that children have when their parents lose their health and their minds. Whether anyone wants to read it is another matter. It's a sad story, and the fact that it is such a common one and touches so many lives does not make it any more appealing. There's little hope in this book, and ultimately little art to it too. Generally that seems a plus; here it strikes a bit too close to home.
       Know what you're getting yourself into when you pick up this book -- and don't give it to anyone without first having read it ! It most definitely may not be the right thing.

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"I Remain in Darkness": Reviews: Annie Ernaux: Other books by Annie Ernaux under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Annie Ernaux was born in Normandy in 1940. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2022.

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© 1999-2023 the complete review

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