The End of Eddy begins with an opening that could rival Anna Karenina: ‘From my childhood I have no happy memories.’ A reader might find that odd, and be inclined to believe that this novel will go on to prove this first line is a lie. It does not. What follows that line, and fills the first chapter, is the titular young boy, Eddy Bellegueule, being violently beaten by two boys at school. He is spat on, called a faggot and a pussy, and we learn that this is just part of his life. A regular occurrence. This is just the beginning.
The novel explores the coming of age an effeminate young boy in a small French village. A village, where racism, sexism, and, most pertinently, homophobia is commonplace. The votes go the National Front but Eddy still has a desire to fit in. This is his home, this is what he knows, and to be a part of that is crucial to Eddy. He wants to change himself to be like other boys in the town, and in doing so, he openly expresses his distaste for faggots. Even telling other boys, who strip naked for fun in the way straight men do, that he’s not gay, so why would he join in. The ideologies of his village, his family, and everyone around him are also ingrained within his mind. It’s easy to see why when you look at his family: a mother who can’t stand to see a son of hers that isn’t tough, his father a man whose masculinity is everything to him, and his brother, who is violent and angry. Though, the author assigns little blame to them. Nor does he blame his attackers, or neighbours. No, he represents them as victims too, of circumstances maybe, but they’re not painted simply as villains. They are people who have been left behind, the working class, they are disenfranchised. They are those that are discussed continually in politics, whether that be in regards to Trump or Brexit, but they are those that have been unreached, unspoken to for years. There’s an empathy to the way they’re portrayed, an understanding, that might come from the fact that Louis used to be one of them.
Though Louis calls this a novel it is not fiction. Eddy Bellegueule is the name the author was given at birth before he legally changed it. It is described as an ‘autobiographical novel’ and Louis rejects the tag ‘autofiction’. The idea to call the book a novel was Louis’s own. He didn’t want the book to be a ‘misery memoir’ and, as consumers, we allow fiction to go to places that we don’t always let memoir go to. At least, not without labeling that memoir a certain way.
What struck me about the book, and what I haven’t been able to shake since reading it, is the way that this violence, and this lack of acceptance, effects Eddy. The way his sexuality is explored with other boys in sheds and in secret, or the near idolisation of his attackers, and the fantasies he has about them. How they might force themselves on him, as if to this young boy, being raped by a man is maybe the only way he can get what he wants and not be culpable for it. The self-hatred he seems to feel, the darkness of what it’s like to grow up different and alone. It’s these thoughts that run through my mind whenever I see the spine of the book on my shelf or tell others what I’ve been reading. Of course, my mind does go to that violence, which is written unflinchingly, but it’s the effects of that violence haunt me.
The End of Eddy is published by Harvill Secker and is available in hardback online and in all good bookstores now.
This review orginally appeared as part of an LGBTQ+ blog project examining queer film, art, literature, and TV.