Originally published in 1977, Do What They Say or Else is the second novel by French author Annie Ernaux. Set in a small town in Normandy, France, the novel tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl named Anne, who lives with her working-class parents. The story, which takes place during the summer and fall of Anne’s transition from middle school to high school, is narrated in a stream-of-consciousness style from her point of view. Ernaux captures Anne’s adolescent voice, through which she expresses her keen observations in a highly colloquial style.
As the novel progresses and Anne’s feelings about her parents, her education, and her sexual encounters evolve, she grows into a more mature but also more conflicted and unhappy character, leaving behind the innocence of her middle school years. Not only must she navigate the often-confusing signals she receives from boys, but she also finds herself moving further and further away from her parents as she surpasses their educational level and worldview.
Annie Ernaux, winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in 1940 in Lillebonne, France. Ernaux's autobiographical narrative, La Place, won the Prix Renaudot, and her books, A Woman’s Story and A Man’s Place, were named New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Ernaux’s most recent novel, Les Années, is widely considered one of her greatest works. She is the author of Do What They Say or Else (Nebraska, 2022). Jonathan Kaplansky has translated numerous works, including Hélène Dorion's novel Days of Sand and Hélène Rioux's novel Wednesday Night at the End of the World. Brian Evenson is a professor and director of the Literary Arts Program at Brown University. He is the author of Altmann’s Tongue (available in a Bison Books edition) and, most recently, Last Days and Fugue State.
“A powerful portrait of a searching adolescent.”—Publishers Weekly
“In this, her second published novel, Annie Ernaux writes the psycho-biology of being fifteen years old with perfect recall. Do What They Say or Else conveys the cost of upward mobility and the desire to just throw it all away. Ernaux is in perfect control of her narrator’s wildness. The result is vivid and tough.”—Chris Kraus, author of After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography
“Annie Ernaux is often celebrated for her minimalist and documentary style. Yet this second novel, very funny at times, is narrated from the perspective of a teenage girl, with a vindictive and self-deprecating tone that ranges from the colloquial to the outright vulgar. This translation is a true tour de force!”—Bruno Thibault, author of Danièle Sallenave et le don des morts