The Rise of Eddy: Born in the Gutter, Becoming the Intelligentsia
IT TOOK A WHILE FOR THE WRITER to find his words. When the whole world erupted in conversation about the Gilets Jaunes—an amorphous group of yellow-vested protesters who are furious with the French government—he felt powerless. Though he was not on the streets himself, when he heard the world talking about the Gilets Jaunes, he heard the world talking about himself.
The French Twittersphere expected him to take a stance, because Édouard Louis is well-known for his views on French politics and society. So finally, he dove into his own feelings of torn identity, and while the media channeled scenes of violence in the streets, Louis began to write about the “bodies that usually never appear in the public space nor in the media. Long-suffering bodies, ravaged by work, by fatigue, by hunger.”
In 2014, the now 26-year-old writer stepped into the French intelligentsia, with En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, “The End of Eddy Bellegueule,” an autobiographical novel. The story of a boy who grew up in a working-class family in Hallencourt, a small town in the north of France. Eddy suffers shame and abuse because Eddy is gay. He wants to escape from a place marked by violence, pain and appetite for the far-right Front National, now called the Rassemblement National. As a teenager, he manages to make it to the nearby city of Amiens, where he finally finds himself, changes his name to Édouard, and enters the prestigious schools he dreamed of attending.
The End of Eddy, Louis’ first novel, was widely acclaimed in France and translated into more than 20 languages. In its pages, readers found an uncanny and accusing vision of a French system that neglects too many, leaving them at the mercy of poverty that deforms lives. Louis followed his literary debut with two more works of autobiographical fiction, History of Violence in 2016, and Who Killed My Father in 2018, both espousing even clearer political messages.
Since Emmanuel Macron’s election, Édouard Louis has become more vocal about his political views. In June 2018, when the Elysée announced that “everybody reads Édouard Louis,” the young author fought back on Twitter, tagging Macron in a post that said, “Don’t try to use me. I write to shame you.”
Now, Louis is marching hand in hand with the “Comité Adama” to protest against police violence after the death of Adama Traoré who was allegedly murdered by the French police in 2016, near Paris. Along with Didier Eribon—a French sociologist and Louis’ former teacher—and the philosopher Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, the young writer has embraced a new career as a leftist intellectual who is willing and able to share his views with the whole world. And the world seems to want a piece of him. Just last year, Louis appeared in The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Corriere della Serra, The New York Times and The New Yorker. His books are read all over the world and have even been adapted for the stage and for the screen. Acclaimed German theater director Thomas Ostermeier’s recent adaptation of Louis’ History of Violence (Im Herzen Der Gewalt) made headlines in Germany.
Who knows where Louis’ peculiar reading of society will go next? Could the French writer prove to be a second wind for the left, in a country that is living through some of its most turbulent times? “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity,” said Einstein. Perhaps Édouard Louis could be a ray of light amidst France’s turmoil.
“Maybe you have to really come from that world to immediately identify it,” Louis said in an interview with The New Yorker. “When I was a kid, my parents, and especially my mother, always said, ‘No one is talking about us. No one cares about us.’”
Now at least, there’s one writer who does.
This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue