-In our village it wasn’t enough to be known to have been hard, you had to be able to make your son a hard case too. A father reinforced his masculinity through his sons, to whom he had to transmit the values of virility, and my father would do I it, he was going to make me a hard case too.***
Now this was a difficult book to write up, I’ve been sat on it for five months now not really sure how to go forward and the I came across a blog article by Francilien based on an interview given by Edward Louis. I would suggest you check this out, I follow on here with a quote from this blog to put this book in perspective:
-Much of Louis’s work is influenced by the French sociologue Pierre Bourdieu’s theory on symbolic power. I’m not yet familiar with the body of Bourdieu’s work, but the conversation revolved around how Louis’s novels affirm the existence of symbolic power while simultaneously having the protagonist–Louis himself–diverge from this theory.
Symbolic power is basically the perpetuation of social violences by a group of people who have the claim to cultural–and thus political and economic–capital. “The question of political action, for the people with whom I grew up, was firstly a question of body.
The opening quote explains a little of the world into which the character Eddy was born. This book and the characters are a very thinly disguised version of the author’s own life, Eddy is born in an industrial village in the countryside in Picardy in the north of France, an English parallel could be an industrial village in Wiltshire or Somerset. From twelve years on school results were of no importance, to survive socially a boy had to be hard, take no nonsense, and going into school each day or not, you would still end up living in the village.
-Violence wasn’t unusual for me, far from that. I’d always, as long as I could remember, seen my father drunk, in fights leaving the café with other men as drunk as him, smashing their noses or their teeth. Men that had looked too pointedly at my mother, and my farher under the influence, who said threateningly who do you think you are looking at my wife like that you filthy bastard. My mother who tried to calm him down -darling calm yourself- but whose efforts were ignored. My father’s mates, who eventually ended up intervening, that was the rule, that was being a true mate, a good friend, diving in to separate my father and the other man, the victim of his drunkeness, with his face covered in cuts and bruises.***
From the outset Eddy would need to work double hard to gain respect, after all his name was “Bellegeule” that is Pretty Face in English. But there was another problem from the outset:
-Very quickly I spoilt my father’s hopes and dreams. From the first months of my life my problem was diagnosed. It would seem that I was born this way, no one understood the origin, the cause, where that unknown force came from that took me over from birth, that made me a prisoner of my own body. When I started to express myself, to learn to speak, my voice spontaneously took on a feminine tone. It was higher than that of other boys. Each time I spoke my hands moved wildly, all over the place, twisting and flapping. My parents called that putting on airs, they said stop it with your airs. They asked themselves why Eddy was carrying on like a sissy. They told me: Calm down, can’t you stop making those exaggerated movements like a queer. They thought that I had chosen to be effeminate, like a personal aesthetic that I had chosen just to upset them.***
Edward Louis in this book takes us through his early life, his surroundings and his family in painful detail until he can finally get away from his village and begin to construct his own life, for me there is an overwhelming feeling of bitterness behind this book and I wonder how he himself will feel, not about the sociological detail, but about the lack of forgiveness in the fullness of time.
First published in French as ‘En Finir ave Eddy Bellegeule’ by Editions du Seuil in 2014
*** My translation