The End of Eddy (En enfir avec Eddy Bellenguele, published in French in 2014, in English in 2017) is a lucid memoir of a brutalized childhood. Ostensibly, it is a novel, but the main fiction seems to me the author changing his name from Eddy Bellegueule (born in 1992 in Hallencourt, Picardy (northwestern Franc) to Édouard Louis. His mother dropped out of school to bear him and then to raise him and five siblings. His father was a hard-drinking factory worker who lost his job and was embarrassed to have a wife who worked. His own father had beaten him and his siblings, so he refused to strike his children physically, but his verbal abuse was considerable, particularly about the lack of conventional masculinity of Eddy.
The effeminacy disturbed Eddy’s mother, and, indeed, Eddy, though he was unable to do anything to curb it. Before the first chapter is over, the asmathic Eddy is being spit on and beaten on a daily basis by a pair of misshapen older students. At a not-very-superficial level, he believes that he deserves it. He could have avoided the unmonitored space where his daily beatings occur, but did not. I’m not sure a ten-year-old can be a masochist, but self-hating, for sure.
The “novel” details somewhat later attempts to pass as heterosexual by “dating” and kissing girls, despite a lack of arousal or even interest. His tormentors leave school and he manages to be accepted in the drama program of a middle school in the provincial capital of Amiens, where he begins the process of shedding his working-class culture. The author went on to the École normal supérieure and the Écoles des hautes etudes in sciences sociales.
Though harrowing, the portrayal of working-class brutality does not seem extraordinary in the US, the land of Dorothy Allison and Justin Torres, as well as William Faulkner, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison. (Louis’s epigram comes from Marguerite Duras, who wrote in French with similar lucidity about shame and/or poverty in an earlier epoch; also see Violette Leduc.) What he writes is painful to read about, if not as painful as it was to experience directly. (The finale recalls the freeze-frame at the end of Truffaut’s “Les Quatre Cents Coup”/”400 Blows.” In a way it is followed by the serenity of the author photo and biographical blurb inside the back cover, which details a body of work for the 25-year-old.)
Though appalled by the ethnocentrism (by which I mean class more than nation), sexism, heterosexism, racism, and rampant alcoholism of the deindustrializing wasteland he flees, the narrator is aware how limited the life chances of those around him are and have been. He does not defend them, any more than he defends himself from being spit on and fagbashed over and over and over and over. He knew he was different from other boys before the sexual component of being a fag began with a cousin regularly sodomizing him.
The book includes blurbs from Edmund White (biographer of Jean Genet, as well as author of A Boy’s Own Story) and Justin Torres (We the Animals). I don’t think End is as good, but it is relentless and assured.
©2017, Stephen O. Murray