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Revolutionize: An Evaluation of Édouard Louis' Work - Masterful Portrayal of Family Conflict
Culture

Revolutionize: An Evaluation of Édouard Louis’ Work – Masterful Portrayal of Family Conflict

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French author Édouard Louis has two stories to share, both centered around himself. The first, featured in his highly praised debut novel The End of Eddy, tells of his struggle to leave the impoverished northern town where he faced discrimination for being gay. The second story, a continually evolving project, delves into the aftermath of publishing The End of Eddy, which propelled him out of his working-class upbringing and strained his relationships with his mother, as seen in his autobiographical works Who Killed My Father and A Woman’s Battles and Transformations.

The book “Change”, the author’s fifth, recounts his journey from 17 to 25 years old and details his hard-won rise to fame (“Do I need to remind you how it all began?”). Written in the form of a novel, it is primarily directed towards Elena, an affluent friend he met while studying in Amiens on a scholarship in his late teens. With her guidance, he learns proper dining etiquette and is introduced to the works of Modigliani, Wagner, and Palestine for the first time (“I didn’t even know such a place existed”). He trades in his hoodie for a tie, loses 10 kilograms through jogging, transforms his voice through practice in front of the mirror, undergoes dental and hairline surgery, and after being inspired by a guest lecture from Didier Eribon – a philosopher from similar origins based in Paris – he devours books and then writes his own.

The book’s emotional impact is centered around the constant question of how betraying his own identity feels, not just to Louis (also known as “Édouard” in the book). Elena is discarded after providing him with cultural capital, as he flees to Paris in search of more thrilling and treasonous hook-ups. He reflects on his relationship with his homophobic father, admitting that during sex, he thought of him (revealing the unspeakable). He seeks out men who will let him stay the night, such as a railway worker with the smell of grease and metal on his body, or a man from a notorious housing estate in France. He also encounters wealthy CEOs who only travel by private jet and spend their time in expensive hotels, which reminds him of his family’s struggles during his childhood.

There is a lively atmosphere, but also exaggerated statements (“only”, “entire”) and self-righteous boasting (“the philosopher Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick mentions the endless transformative energy that can come from a stigmatized childhood”). Among the harsh self-examination, contradictions are left unsaid: while one person’s rude behavior towards a waitress at an upscale dinner reveals their awareness of social class, they also openly admit to fearing the prospect of “falling” to the level of working as a cashier like their cousin. There is also intrigue in how concerned Louis appears to be about the book’s categorization as fiction. The unusual disclaimers in a footnote are worth noting.

Actually, I did not attend the lecture with Elena. Instead, I went with a different friend. I chose to replace Elena with this friend in my account in order to avoid having to recount all the events that led to my decision. Nonetheless, I shared every detail with Elena and it felt as though she was there with me the entire time, even though she was not physically present.

Perhaps Louis’s intention is to suggest that the rest of the book is written with the same level of honesty and responsibility as one would have when under oath. However, even though some of the most impactful passages in terms of psychological persuasion involve Édouard admitting to bending the truth, or at least presenting reality in a way that would elicit a strong reaction. For instance, when recounting his neglected childhood to Elena’s mother, he reveals, “I was exaggerating, not really lying but presenting reality in a way that would disgust her.” This brings into question the true intentions and perspective of The End of Eddy. Similarly, in Change, when Édouard briefly turns to selling sex to pay for his dental bills, he describes one of his clients as “sagging or rather oozing to the floor.”

Change’s appeal lies in Louis’s skill at portraying familial conflict, a timeless topic with deep emotional effects. In one scene, Édouard’s mother becomes frustrated when her son tells her to smoke outside after learning from Elena that he has been passively smoking his whole life. This leads to a humorous and tragic confrontation, as well as Édouard’s realization that his desire for revenge against his father has shifted to seeking revenge on his behalf. However, it remains unclear if Louis truly understands the true power of his story in Change, which goes beyond its uniqueness. He even questions whether it is normal to both hate and miss his childhood, hinting at the potential for a new subject if he is able to take a step back and listen.

Source: theguardian.com