BookBrowse Reviews The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

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The End of Eddy

by Edouard Louis

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis X
The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2018, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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In Louis' highly autobiographical debut novel, an adolescent boy seeks to escape poverty, bullying and homophobia in his small town in northern France.

The End of Eddy has been a publishing phenomenon in Édouard Louis' native France, where it has sold several hundred thousand copies (see Beyond the Book). Set in roughly the late 1990s, it's a brief but unrelenting novel about growing up gay and poor in a small factory town in northern France. The story is largely autobiographical although it is difficult to tell which elements are borrowed from the author's life and which ones are fictional.

Eddy Bellegueule has what Louis calls "a tough guy's name" thanks to his father, who is a fan of American television shows. That first name "Eddy" is tough, anyway, especially because it's an unusual nickname in French. However, his last name, Bellegueule, means "pretty face," and from the start Eddy disappoints his father by having effeminate mannerisms he can't seem to control. His father hopes to get him interested in soccer and his sister tries to set him up with her friend Sabrina, but neither attempt is any use. In middle school Eddy is bullied by two boys who call him "fag," spit on him, and even knock his head against a brick wall.

It can be hard to read scenes like this, or the one where Eddy has his – not entirely consensual or wholesome – sexual initiation. But there is also something cathartic about them, particularly since readers learn early on that Eddy makes it out of this situation ("years later, when I arrived in Paris and at the École Normale…"). It helps to know that Eddy will have a life beyond this painful one. Also, I think it sparks in the reader a desire to find out what happens next. I could even see this book becoming the first installment of a series, perhaps in the vein of Edmund White's autobiographical trilogy about coming of age as a gay man (starting with A Boy's Own Story in 1982).

Moreover, Eddy never appears as a helpless victim; in fact, with great psychological acuity, Louis pinpoints those times when, in his desperation to appear normal and throw off the accusations of being gay, Eddy has tolerated his tormentors rather than telling on them.

I had to keep other kids from thinking of me as someone who gets beaten up. That would have proved their suspicions: Bellegueule is a fag 'cause he gets beaten up (or the other way around, it didn't matter). I thought it would be better if I seemed like a happy kid. So I became the staunchest ally of this silence, and, in a certain way, complicit in this violence.

Ironically, as a young teenager, Eddy is quick to denounce other homosexuals; he recognizes this as his own futile attempt "to deflect suspicion" and "to transfer my shame."

Being poor is another key source of embarrassment for Eddy. His family lives in a moldy house with nothing but thin sheets of plasterboard and curtains to demarcate rooms, and they get provisions from a food bank. The whole village seems rather backward – people have poor dental hygiene for instance – and patterns of violence and teenage pregnancy perpetuate themselves. Eddy's father is a belligerent drunk, and soon his older brother is too, as if he's inherited an inescapable family curse. His mother bore her first child at 17 and now her two pastimes are smoking and watching television. "I like to have a good time, I don't pretend to be a lady, I am what I am, ordinary," she defends herself. It's intriguing to encounter familiar "white trash" stereotypes in a novel set in another country, and serves as a useful reminder that the poor face the same challenges no matter where they live.

Yet the title reflects the narrator's determination to be done with others' conceptions of who he is or should be – the passive prey, the effeminate disappointment versus the longed-for macho male, the deprived backwater boy – and find his own way in life. As wrenching as this coming-of-age story is at times, it escapes the trappings that plague similar works through its orientation towards the future. It's easy to sympathize with Eddy's pain and longing to escape, and equally easy to hope with him that there will be happier days after he's "put an end" to the old Eddy.

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

This review was originally published in May 2017, and has been updated for the May 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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