Book review: Fights and transformations of a woman, by Édouard Louis

Readers of Louis, who is 29 – he has published five successful novels in France, this is his fourth – know his mixture of tenderness and rage, feeling and intellection, and above all formal ingenuity: Each of his books is different from the previous one. in the way it makes its narrative path. The first, “The End of Eddy”, was made up of short essays that moved in and out of direct timeline but centered on how Louis, a girlish boy who was gay, was relentlessly bullied and beaten by everyone he knew. he knew, family or not. ; the second, “History of Violence”, was a listened-to account, Louis listening to his sister tell her husband of the brutal rape Louis had suffered, a brilliant piece of formal indirection that dramatized the impropriety of listening to such stories, executing the delicacy that Louis felt in telling his own.

The last novel can be understood as the second part of a diptych begun with “Qui a assassin mon père” by Louis – his father a man who is literally alive, but whose alcoholism, racism, anti-Semitism and ultimate handicap following a factory accident are a heritage that could not, in Louis’ sympathetic view of his largely unsympathetic father, be denied. Each novel in the diptych is barely 100 pages long, but in both, from the everyday horror of ignorance, poverty and fear, a transformation occurs for parents, with war achieving varieties of peace muted. A father who could not stand his son’s “queenly gestures” and “whimsical ways” becomes, with age, one of Louis’s grateful readers; a mother who couldn’t leave Louis’ father finally does, starting a new life in Paris, where, unexpectedly, so many changes she can say — in a wondrous scene — that Catherine Deneuve has come to visit .

But these two little books, particularly “A Woman’s Battles and Transformations”, also present a less appealing feature of Louis’s novelistic practice, a feature that has always been present, a sort of 40-watt intellectual bombast:

“I was told that literature should never look like a display of feelings, but I write only to let the emotions flow, those feelings that the body cannot express.”

“I was told that literature should never look like a political manifesto but already I sharpen each of my sentences as I would sharpen the blade of a knife.”