What does it take to turn reality into fiction? How about a life-changing event?
That’s exactly what Édouard Louis endeavoured to do after being raped on Christmas Eve 2012, at the hands of a stranger known only as Reda
Going into this book, I knew little about either the author or the content. I think it was one of those books that Goodreads recommends based on previously enjoyed books.
Either way, History of Violence completely blew me away on so many fronts; the narrative, the shocking event, and the aftermath. I can’t say I’ve read a book like this in a long time.
Suffering from the aftermath, Édouard moves in with his sister and her husband, where he overhears them talking through his story. It’s from this point of view that the story is directed; Louis on the outside, looking in on his own ordeal feeling mistreated by their interpretations.
It’s an interesting standpoint and not one that I can remember reading before. There are similarities to Suicide by Édouard Levé, but this goes above and beyond any pain portrayed there.
Subtlety in Shock
This is a book that’s filled with many nuances.
Take for example, when the police officer in charge of the case discusses the perpetrator, continually referring to Reda as ‘An Arab’, even when Édouard describes him as Algerian.
Throughout the book, Louis’s descriptions of events, characters and environments feel rich with detail, whilst remaining dark and claustrophobic.
Whether it’s the night of the attack, the reporting of the crime, or the hiding behind a door to eavesdrop, there’s always a continued simmering tension.
Édouard is clearly going through a challenging period in his life – It’s in dealing with his family and friends that I find a point of contact.
Having people close to you isn’t always in your favour, and to hear them talking about him in a negative light is incredibly tough to take.
On the other hand, Édouard’s own poverty makes him sympathise with Reda. Having driven around in gangs and stolen from local businesses as a youth, he develops a deep connection towards the man who raped, and then later tried to murder him.
A Bitter Aftermath
Having to deal with a mix of emotions, people who think they know best, and a racist judicial system, Édouard leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
Homophobia is another of the prejudices held by some of the supporting characters, which changes the narration to fit their own bigotries.
History of Violence also shows the changes that a horrific event can have on an entire family as everyone interprets the event according to their own beliefs.
If they perceive Édouard to be a good person, then he is the victim entirely, but the other way around and suddenly he starts to take some of the blame.
It’s an incredibly powerful device in a book that displays such a short period of his life; yet is much stronger for it.
Equally, Édouard feels that as the narration progresses, he’s beginning to lose control of the event. There’s the deep feeling of wanting to hold onto his pain because it happened to him and no one else.
However, to hear them tell the story, they’re doing him an injustice and stealing away the truth.
A Talented Author
Whilst researching Édouard Louis, I found him to be such a talented and likeable guy.
When you hear him speak, he always has so much to say, especially concerning the topics of poverty, working-class people, homophobia and racism within society.
The experience of reading History of Violence and then exploring his work further has made me want to read his other two books: one published before, and the other after this.
In short, History of Violence is an excellent book coming out of France from such a young author. Being able to turn such a traumatic experience into a novel, such as this, deserves special praise indeed.
Not only is the narration unusual, but the taste left in your mouth after finishing will leave you thinking about modern society and how we often treat male rape victims.
Whether you enjoy the book or not, it does raise an interesting point about the lines of fiction and biography. At which point do they meet?