Edouard Louis on Eddy Bellegueule

I said somewhere else that Berlin is everywhere, but so is rural France. Edouard Louis is a young French writer who wrote the novel 'En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule' at the age of 18. It was published in France last year and is currently being translated into 20 languages. It was a bestseller. It caused a scandal with the busybodies that sell censure called political correctness and was greeted as a revelation by realists, writers, and able-minded literary critics alike.

Edouard Louis



Is it possible to break with the past if it was mainly marked by abuse and violence? The French writer Edouard Louis is very young; he was 18 when he wrote his debut novel 'En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule'. It was published in 2014 in France and sold 200,000 copies. Outwardly, the highly talented sociology students gives no indication of having grown up in crippling poverty in a part of France where racism, drink, and brutality are commonplace and education is the exception. In his autobiographical novel, he tells how to survive in such conditions if one is gay.

Eddy Bellegueule

As early as preschool, it was clear that Eddy Bellegueule was different. His voice was called girlish, he walked and gestured differently compared to the real boys, and he liked to wear girls' clothes. There was a collective punishment for this otherness that he had to face on a daily basis. The parents demanded that he stop acting like a faggot. His drunken older brother wanted to beat him to death. Two of his classmates mistreated him every day; quite naturally they felt superior and entitled to do so, as if all concerned including the abused Eddy were filling traditional roles of approved behavior.

Edouard Louis

In the novel, all of this is reported in a cool tone by the first-person narrator who acts as if he had been there but at the same time hadn't been really present. It is rendered in post-traumatic anesthesia by a stunned voice that no longer remembers the pain. Instead, Edouard Louis confronts us with a look back without self-pity. In an era and country where rural life is celebrated with picturesque longing, the writer provides a portrait of provincial life much more realistic than high gloss country magazines would ever dare. In this real world, the television set runs from morning to night, mindlessly, incessantly. People take pride in their poverty because they don't see any alternative without change; and change is what they don't want. Sex and violence often go hand in hand. Relentlessly, unmercifully, gender roles handed down through countless generations are practiced and followed slavishly. Very young women have children and end up like their mothers before them dragging their man from the pub in a nightly ritual. In this world, there is always latent anger that is vented in the form of racism and hate.

Eddy Bellegueule

But it is not this piercing look into the closet that makes 'En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule' a literary event, but the special autobiographical reference. The narrator doesn't want to remember, there is nothing therapeutic in his narrative, he doesn't look for pity, and there is no catharsis at the end of the novel. Rather, this novel seems an attempt at a grand exorcism: the magic act of writing should help the writer transcend his own origins, eradicate his personal past and make it into something that had happened to somebody else. This is bold in its impossibility, while one wishes that it will work all the same. Eddy Bellegeule no longer exists, the young writer seems to say: Now he calls himself Edouard Louis.


The author said in an interview with German Radio: "I really wanted that 'novel' is part of the book's title because I do not believe that a novel must always necessarily be fictional. Even if this has often been claimed in the past. But it's even better if I change that convention. 'Novel' means to me 'construction', and so the novel was for me a means to approach my autobiography. I wanted to bring literary style as near as possible to factual truth. There is no fictional strand in my narrative. It is about my own childhood. Eddy Bellegueule is different, so he is ejected from family and school. Based on this, I constructed a plot, which allowed me to describe this truth. The various language levels are very important. I noticed that when I say that my father rejected me because of my homosexuality or that he is a racist, that it is something completely different to when I deal with the language and words used like 'fagot' or 'tart 'or certain offensive words they use for Arabs."

As the book will certainly be translated into English, I just hope that the translator will be able to use language in the same clinical way while using sentences that cut like a scalpel. I saw a title translation reading 'Getting Rid of Eddy Bellegueule' somewhere on the net. That is not what the author meant with his title in French; it also has nothing to do with the content of the novel. Lets hope it was someone unable to speak French, and not the real title as otherwise it will be a catastrophe.

Further reading