1 July 2018

Édouard Louis: Qui a tué mon père (2018)

After the devastating En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (2014) and Historie de la violence (2016), Édouard Louis continues his autobiographical (mixed with his sociological, and this time more polictical) writings. In his first novel his father is severely criticised, although in this third autobiographical novel his father is far more humanised, as opposed to his half-brother Vincent. The title of the new book is deliberately ambiguous: Qui a tué mon père ('Who Killed My Father') is without a question mark: this is not a question asked by the author, but a fact.

We learn that the narrator's father, following an accident, is now suffering with a serious heart complaint, can no longer drink or drive, gets breathless after only going a few steps, and this at the age of only fifty. Taking the sociological angle, Édouard Louis says his masculinist beliefs have condemned him to live in poverty: school being seen as 'effeminate', his father left as soon as he could to take up work in the factory his forefathers had worked in. Although violence (such as that doled out by his paternal grandfather) hasn't been passed on, and the father takes it out on other things.

Louis in one respect turns Sartre on his head: his father's life proves that he isn't what he's done, but what he's not done, because society has prevented him from doing it. But there are still many criticisms (due to societal pressures and problems, of course) of the things his father's said, such as 'Eddy' wanting the DVD Titanic as a present, which his father sees as a 'girls' film'; such as his father refusing to recognise 'Eddy' (a word not actually mentioned in this book) singing in a girls' voice at 'concert'; his father wishes he worked in a mortuary, where at least the dead can't piss him off.

And yet Louis's father, he discovers, had (at least once) dressed in female clothing, had attracted his wife by his dancing, but has shrugged any tramellings of 'femininity' away to become 'a man'. As a result, by moving straight to work from elementary schooling, he has chosen to live like a child for the rest of his life, succumbing to the slightest desires, drinking to excess, staying out all night if the fancy takes him. After her husband spends a huge amount of the housekeeping on a passing fair, his mother realises that she has not married a man but a child.

Towards the end of this novel Édouard Louis gets seriously political and starts making accusations: Jacques Chirac and his health minister Xavier Bertrand cut down on remimbursements for digestive problems, so they destroyed his father's intestines; Nicholas Sarkozy and his 'accomplice' Martin Hirsch replaced the RMI with the RSA, forcing people into work, and Louis' father with a bad back was harrassed into taking up work; under the government of Holland and Vals, helped by work minister Myriam El Khomri, the notorious 'loi travail' forced Louis' father into working more; and of course, under the new very right wing régime, Macron believes 'that the poor are too rich, that the rich aren't rich enough'.

It's fitting that Édouard Louis mentioned Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake a few weeks ago on La Grande Librairie, because the Thatcherite and Blairite privatisation horrors that long ago destroyed Britain are now happening in France, although I don't think very many people are like Édouard Louis, with sufficient knowledge to realise what is happening to them under Macron and Philippe. It is tragic, and this is Édouard Louis's best book by far.

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