Home > 2010, 21st Century, Autobiography, French Literature, Louis Edouard, Novel > The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis. (2014) Original French title: En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule.

Edouard Louis was born in 1992, he wrote The End of Eddy when he was 22. It is an autobiographical novel. Edouard Louis changed his name from Eddy Bellegueule to Edouard Louis when he changed of social class. He used to be Eddy Bellegueule, child of a poor working-class family in Picardie. He is now Edouard Louis, PhD in sociology. And, very important, he’s gay, was gay as Eddy, is gay as Edouard.

The End of Eddy opens with a punchy sentence: I have no happy memories of my childhood. The décor is there, you know you’re in for a lot of miserable anecdotes. And indeed, the first chapter is about with Eddy being bullied in collège (school you go to between 11 and 15) by two boys who call him a faggot. It’s a violent scene that throws the reader head first into the dark swimming-pool of his childhood memories.

His parents have five children. His two older siblings come from his mother’s first marriage. He has a younger brother and a younger sister. At the beginning, his father works in a factory and his mother stays at home to raise the children. When his father loses his job due to backaches problems, his mother starts working as a home help. He says that from early childhood he knew he was different and that he’s always been pegged as gay. He describes his life in his village in a poor neighborhood. It’s an environment where men and women have defined roles, where being a man means being tough. They don’t look into their feminine side. Being a man means playing and watching football, joking around with buddies, being tough, not going to the doctor unless you’re on death bed. In a word, and to match their language, you don’t behave like a pussy. They spend time at the pub, they drink, they fight. Women bear with them but wouldn’t want them differently. There’s a social context that make the story repeats itself: early pregnancies, early marriages, dropping out of school, poor education, poor jobs. Poor people generation after generation.

The social portray pictured in The End of Eddy is a mix of Angela’s Ashes, Billy Elliot, a film by Ken Loach and La vie de Jésus by Bruno Dumont. (Nothing to do with religion, this last one, and everything to do with a character named Freddy and living in a similar context as Eddy) Well, you see the picture. My problem was that Edouard Louis is not as plausible as the other references I mentioned. The global picture rings true but I found that he went too far. Some details don’t seem plausible for the time (we’re in the 1990s, early 2000):

Régulièrement je me rendais dans la chambre des enfants, sombre puisque nous n’avions pas la lumière dans cette pièce (nous n’avions pas assez d’argent pour y mettre un véritable éclairage, pour y suspendre un lustre ou simplement une ampoule : la chambre ne disposait que d’une lampe de bureau. (p26) I used to go to the children room, dark because there was no light in this room. (We didn’t have enough money to install a real lighting, to hang up a sheen or even a light bulb. The room only had a desk lamp)

I’m sorry I find it hard to believe that in the 1990s, in France, you don’t have a light bulb. I would have believed that his parents had trouble paying their electricity bill or that they never bothered to install a light bulb but no light bulb because it’s too expensive? No way.

In the chapter entitled Laura, he says his parents don’t have the telephone and then in the next chapter, he says his mother would call him at home when his parents were out and he was staying home alone. So, where’s the truth? I find hard to believe that they didn’t have a landline.

I have the feeling that he exaggerates details to make the picture more gruesome and miserable. The passages about the filth in houses around him is too much to be true in France in the 1990s. He wrote this when he was 22, and it might explain why he overstates his case when it’s about his family. It’s too soon after he left.

Something else bothers me. I think he downplays his own achievements in school. He writes: J’avais dix ans. J’étais nouveau au collège. (I was ten. I was new at the collège.) But the normal age to start collège is eleven. So, either the novel is inaccurate and he was indeed eleven at the time or he really was ten. If he started collège a year earlier, knowing the French school system, he was probably scouted by his primary school teachers. It means that he was brilliant in school. It is confirmed when he gets in a good lycée (high school) after collège. In the French public school system, where you live defines where you go to school. It’s possible to go to another school only if there’s an academic reason to it. So, if Eddy Bellegueule got in this other lycée, which was not the one he was supposed to go according to geography, it simply means he had outstanding grades on top of his acting skills that got him into the theatre program. All along the book, he downplays this side of his life. He must have had the school system (teachers, school directors…) on his side. They must have helped him out along the way and it’s not mentioned in the novel.

I found the social portrait too harsh and not nuanced enough and I had the feeling that he twisted the facts to give a darker image of his social background, out of spite.

The most interesting and plausible part of The End of Eddy is his inner life as a gay living in an environment where it was shameful. I think the real poignant part of the book is his struggle to conform. He wants to please his parents, he wants to have friends. At the beginning of the book, I found his statements a bit caricatural, like here:

Mes goûts aussi étaient toujours automatiquement tournés vers des goûts féminins sans que je sache ou comprenne pourquoi. J’aimais le théâtre, les chanteuses de variétés, les poupées, quand mes frères (et même, d’une certaine manière, mes sœurs) préféraient les jeux vidéo, le rap et le football. P26 My tastes were almost always automatically feminine oriented. I didn’t know or understand why. I liked theatre, variety singers and dolls when my brothers (and in a certain way even my sisters) preferred video games, rap music and football.

As the novel progresses though, his life as a gay in a homophobic environment rings true. I felt sorry for him and what he describes sounds plausible, unfortunately. Living and going to school in an area where a man is a tough guy, it doesn’t live a lot of room for boys who are different. I think this part makes the book worth reading.

A word about the title. In French, the title is “En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule” which is different from The End of Eddy. The actual translation would be To Break Away From Eddy Bellegueule. The end of Eddy Bellegueule who became Edouard Louis doesn’t happen by chance. It’s deliberate and the English title doesn’t let this on.

Something else. I understand why Eddy Bellegueule changed his name into Edouard Louis. A first name like Eddy is hard to wear in his new social circles, it really sounds like your parents picked it on TV. It gives away your social background and since he wanted nothing to do with it… But there’s more. Bellegueule means handsome mug and in French, avoir une belle gueule is a colloquial way to say that a man is handsome. The association of Eddy and Bellegueule is hard to live with, even without a chip of your shoulder regarding your origins. It sounds like Johnny Halliday or Eddy Mitchel or Mike Brant, all singers who started in the 1960s when producers made singers change their French names into American names because it was cool.

The End of Eddy was published in English recently, I’ve seen several reviews on other blogs. Even if he irritated me a lot at the beginning because I thought he was laying on it thick about his family’s actual and intellectual poverty, I was convinced by his description of his feelings as a gay in this environment.

PS: You can also read Grant’s review here

And I wish that the French publisher mentioned in a footnote that the song Eddy sings in chapter “La porte étroite” is by the French singer Renaud.

  1. April 9, 2017 at 8:49 am

    I Have to read it…. Pleasant chronicle

    Like

    • April 9, 2017 at 8:54 am

      It’s a quick read. Only 200 pages and the style is easy. Compelling story but not flawless.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 9, 2017 at 12:45 pm

        I put it in my Pal (pile à lire)
        Many thanks

        Like

        • April 9, 2017 at 3:02 pm

          Good. It’ll be great to read your thoughts about it.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. April 9, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Funnily enough, a friend mentioned this book the other day as she was toying with the idea of reading it. I’ll let her know about your review – I’m sure she’ll be interested.

    Like

    • April 9, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      Good to know this billet might be useful. If she reads it, I hope she’ll drop by and leave a message. It’s a good book for discussion, I’m curious about other readers’ opinion about it.

      Like

  3. April 9, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Interesting, especially about laying it on thick. Maybe people do this because they think it lends credibility to other aspects of the story?

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    • April 9, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      I’m afraid here it comes more from the wounds being to raw to be healed properly. Not enough hindsight. He was too young when he wrote it to be detached enough. That’s how I feel when I read the book. It might had led him to be unfair to his family.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. April 9, 2017 at 9:17 am

    I might add this to my list of books to read on holiday ! I’m taking mostly French books as they take me longer to read this solving the weight problem . Despite its flaws this does sound like an interesting book .

    Like

    • April 9, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Helen, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to read this one in English. There’s a lot of slang and poor grammar sentences to show off his family’s lack of education. Maybe you could download a sample to check the language first. (At least you need to check out all the French synonyms of “faggot” before reading it)

      That said, it’s an interesting book and a good one for someone so young.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. April 9, 2017 at 9:37 am

    I have it on my Netgalley pile – the English translation. Interesting to hear your opinions – yes, it does sound rather exaggerated, but you know memory is not always very reliable, is it?

    Like

    • April 9, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      Memory might not be always reliable but he wrote it only a few years later. He was only 22 when his novel was published.
      For me, he was not healed enough and I had the impression that some things were written in anger. And you know anger tends to push us to exaggeration.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. April 9, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    You bring up a good point–how our feelings of the past–in particular, our families can mutate over time.

    Like

    • April 10, 2017 at 10:16 pm

      I wonder how he’ll look back on this book when he’s 40 or 50…Or when one of his parents dies.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. April 9, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    I heard him interviewed on the Vintage podcast and had no idea how young he was. He is so articulate and eloquent. Its on my TBR.

    Like

    • April 10, 2017 at 10:18 pm

      He’s very young and here the critics were quick to praise his genius.
      Let me know what you think of his novel when you’ve read it.

      Like

  8. April 9, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Thanks for the link. I felt the same way about his education – he talks about not being able to concentrate in school or do homework, but by the end his ability seems to be recognised by all. I expect this is partly explained by the polemical nature of the novel – he clearly set out to shock.

    Like

    • April 9, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      I think he wanted to shock too.
      I find his attitude a bit childish and a bit unfair for those who helped him. (and his parents who let him go)

      Like

    • April 10, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      I just found an interview with Télérama, here’s an exerpt:

      “Question : Aujourd’hui, vous êtes élève à l’Ecole normale supérieure. Comment vous y sentez-vous ?

      Edouard Louis: En porte-à-faux. Dès mon arrivée, je ne me sentais pas vraiment à ma place. Ce décalage avec le monde scolaire ne m’a jamais vraiment quitté, comme si les efforts que j’avais fournis, ou qu’on avait consentis pour m’aider, ceux, très importants, de tous les enseignants qui se sont mobilisés pour moi, ne suffisaient pas.”

      “Question: You’re currently studying at l’Ecole normale supérieure. (Note by Emma: A very prestigious and highly selective school). How do you feel there?

      Edouard Louis: Like I’m a fraud. As soon as I arrived, I felt out of place. This distance with the school world has never really left me, as if all my hard work, all the efforts people made to help me, especially all the teachers who helped me out, as if all this was not enough”.

      Ha! I knew that he got help from the school system. There was no way he could have done it all by himself without inside help.

      There’s a pride in French teachers, a heritage from the tradition of the “hussards noirs de la République” to help out gifted students like him. The “hussards noirs de la République” are the army of teachers the Third Republic hired, trained and sent everywhere in France to impose mandatory school and educate the masses.

      Like

  9. April 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    I didn’t enjoy it when I read it in 2014 (soon after its release in French). I totally agree about the exaggeration bit, but to me the result is that I didn’t really care, and I didn’t see the point of writing this “novel”.

    Like

    • April 10, 2017 at 10:22 pm

      You read it in French, I suppose, since it was so soon after it was published in France.

      Is there a point in writing novels anyway? Still, this one can be useful to describe the bullying in school and how it made him feel to be gay and wanting to be different.

      But I understand that you didn’t care for it. I felt sympathy for him but Eddy’s not a very likeable “character”

      Like

  10. April 10, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Very interesting. I read an Anglophone review of both his novels that also suggested there was something overdone about the books (the reviewer, in a what seems to me a remarkable coincidence, lives in the same town Eddy is from). So it’s valuable to get a real perspective on what his stuff is like.

    I like your point about changing names to fit the new “circle”. Am I right in thinking he’s something of a cause celebre in France? Or a famous novelty?

    Like

    • April 10, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      How on earth did an Anglophone reviewer end up in this village in Picardie? I see I’m not the only one to point out that he went overboard. I hope foreigners don’t believe everything he writes. Sometimes it’s more Zola than 21st century literature.

      Honestly, Eddy Bellegueule is a difficult name to live with. Maybe I shouldn’t say that but unfortunately, it’s true.

      He became famous with this book. And the second too, where he tells how he got raped. There’s a court file going on and there was a controversy about it lately.

      Like

  11. April 11, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Grant made it sound more tempting, but I have absolutely no appetite for literary misery memoirs which this firmly sounds like. Plus the overdone stuff really does sound overdone – is it so terrible to credit one’s teachers who must have done so much? A strong pass from me I think.

    For which thank you! I have too much to read already.

    Like

    • April 12, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      It’s not a bad book at all, at least on the gay-teenager side. It’s just too grim to be completely true.

      No need to thank me, that’s what fellow bloggers are there for. 🙂

      Like

  1. April 18, 2017 at 7:36 am
  2. April 18, 2017 at 11:41 am

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