Review of “Change” by Édouard Louis – Eddy’s Revenge
It has been stated that Édouard Louis, a young and talented French author, lacks humor. However, it is at least somewhat amusing for a writer known for his repetitive style to title his book Change. Louis’ previous works have been singularly focused on the psychological and physical harm caused by the neoliberal structures on the working class. Change follows this same theme. This new addition solidifies his reputation as one of the most significant and politically and morally powerful writers of his time.
Though labeled as a work of fiction, Change challenges the boundaries of autofiction. It follows the life of Eddy, also known as Édouard, as he strives to leave behind his working-class background and reinvent himself as an actor, student, lover, radical, and writer – anything to distance himself from the world he was born into. The novel opens with familiar scenes for readers of Louis’s previous novel, The End of Eddy, and takes us on a journey that culminates in the publication of Louis’s breakthrough work… The End of Eddy. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The core of this text delves into the harmful logic behind the concept of social mobility. Despite being promoted as a means of liberation by politicians from various backgrounds since the 1980s, in reality, social mobility policies have simply accepted that success requires leaving one’s social class. While it may be possible to climb out of one’s class, it is deemed impossible to do so while staying within it. When Louis describes feeling disconnected from his own parents and unable to communicate with them due to their differing experiences, he perfectly captures this division. It is a division in both senses of the word – a separation and a clinging on.
Édouard’s introduction to a new way of life through his acting abilities is fitting. He realizes that his talent for drama could open up opportunities for him to attend school elsewhere and assimilate into the middle class. In an effort to conform to their standards, he alters his behavior, speech, and even restricts and controls his body. One scene in particular is heart-wrenching as Édouard practices a new, more subdued laugh in the mirror, one that is deemed more socially acceptable in his new life. Throughout the story, Louis portrays Édouard’s early escape as fueled by a desire for revenge against those who humiliated him and the places he grew up in. While this desire may initially drive him forward, it ultimately proves to be like dirty fuel, causing him to veer off course.
The novel does not end with a triumphant ending, but rather with a sense of exhaustion and acceptance. This is what gives Change its enduring impact: the realization that a hero’s journey is only meaningful if they have a home to return to. While a person may be capable of receiving love, a persona can only receive praise. In the end, Édouard comes to the conclusion that it is time to return home and rest, leaving the reader to contemplate the purpose of all the struggle. It may be a different bed, in a different city, with a different lifestyle to support, but it is still a life marked by violence and disconnection, fighting for a happiness that is never truly achieved.
Louis is a controversial author, and Change will guarantee that he continues to be. It may be too instructive for some, leaning more towards argumentative than artistic. On the other hand, some may find his political observations lacking, occasionally bordering on patronizing. Yet for me, it serves as a gentle nudge of appreciation for our good fortune in having him, a writer who diligently documents the experiences of many, but are portrayed by only a few.