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Death & Dying

by Annie Ernaux
Seven Stories Press, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 20th 2000

I Remain in Darkness

This little book contains diary entries of Annie Ernaux (translated from the French) written around the period she was caring for her dying mother. They date from December 1983 to April 1986. It is a record of a very difficult time. Her mother loses her memory and sometimes has difficulty recognizing even her closest family. Her mother’s body and physical capabilities also deteriorate. She is moved into a nursing home, surrounded by other old people who are also losing the use of their minds and bodies.

The facts of such degeneration are shocking and unpleasant. People lose their dignity as they lose control of their bodily functions. Ernaux’s diary entries show the emotional strain she experiences as she lives through these months, both in her direct expression of her emotion and in her description of the little details of everyday life. As a reader, I was thankful that the book was so short, because otherwise it would be almost impossible to continue page after page.

Ernaux’s grief when her mother dies is nevertheless overpowering for her. Despite the long wait for death, its arrival is still painful. The final pages of the book detail how she gets through those days. The short diary entries, practically in note form, have a poetic quality to them.

One shouldn’t expect too much from a book like this—its mere words on a page couldn’t fully capture the sense of pain and loss the author must have experienced. The fact that this is a diary, and so its words are more spontaneous than one might find in a memoir or novel, makes it more like a sketch than a detailed picture. Ernaux does not engage in soul-searching; her feelings are captured more by external events, the events that chronicle her mother’s departure from life.