This debut novel packs quite a punch. An autobiographical work which caused something of a sensation when it was published in France. There was considerable outcry as the French life depicted here is certainly not the live-and-let-live philosophy which the rest of Europe considers France to have. It is a depiction of recent working-class culture which is chilling and harrowing. In fact, I was I very surprised to discover that French author Edouard Louis is only in his mid-twenties. The tale he is telling seems to be of older generations. I would have hoped that even French village life might have moved on from the events depicted here, but it would seem not.
This translation, by Michael Lucey, a winner of an English PEN Award is an account of a difficult and intense childhood. Set in a village in Picardy from the late 1990s where a tough working-class culture dominates and it is virtually impossible for anyone to be different. The youths follow in their parent’s footsteps of either hard, monotonous work or no work at all, heavy drinking, machismo and make the same mistakes as the previous generation. It is hard to escape this way of life and many just survive underneath the poverty line.
Eddy does not fit in. He questions his sexuality from an early age and his gentler behaviour causes him to be labelled by homophobic family members, fellow pupils and other villagers. He is told what he is before he himself has come to any decision. This leads to lack of self-esteem and a victim mentality which causes him to seek out on a daily basis a couple of youths who will beat him up in a lonely school corridor away from the eyes of others who would want to follow suit. It is a heart-breaking and harrowing account of a childhood.
It is, however, a novel, although one largely based on fact. That may make things slightly easier for the reader but then again there isn’t the same sense of completion that we would get from reading a memoir. Louis is quite prepared as a novelist to leave us hanging and it is only through reading between the lines that we deduce that things must have got better. It’s written very much as a memoir, it flows well and although I read it quickly the appalling treatment meted out to Eddy will certainly not quickly leave my mind.
Often this type of “misery-lit” leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and I question whether I should be reading it at all. I found myself caring and being very concerned about Eddy throughout. It’s written with such honesty that I would imagine all readers would find some parallels with times of doubt in their own childhood. The skewed logic of an immature mind is heartbreaking, yet as a piece of literature it works both beautifully and brutally.
The End Of Eddy is published in the UK in February 2017. Many thanks to the folks at Nudge and to the publishers for the review copy.