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History of Violence

Raw, honest and brave about rape

One of the extraordinary things about Édouard Louis’ debut novel, The End of Eddy, was the complete absence of judgment and bitterness on behalf of the protagonist. Louis’ second novel, History of Violence, shares this quality and, again, it’s a story from Louis’ own life. On the way home from Christmas dinner, Louis meets a stranger whom he invites home for a drink. They share their life stories and have passionate sex. But as the stranger prepares to leave the next morning, things turn ugly. Louis’ skill as a storyteller, intelligent observation of his own and other people’s reactions and ability to draw connections between the personal and the collective proves what an extraordinary talent he is.

The End of Eddy was one my literary discoveries last year. It’s an autobiographical novel which tells the story of Louis’ childhood in Picardy, a deprived, industrial town in northern France. Louis is gay and spends the better part of his youth trying to hide this from the macho, homophobic, misogynist and racist community he’s born into.

History of Violence is set in Paris where Louis now lives as an openly gay man. The shocking rape in this book is true, but almost equally traumatic for Louis is the police interrogation, the medical examinations and the reaction of his family. His incredible capacity for empathy (without being cringeworthy) and insatiable desire to understand make this book about so much more than rape. The perpetrator’s actions spring out of a lethal cocktail of homosexual shame, racism (the perpetrator is Arab) and poverty. And if there’s one person who can understand things from the perspective of the deprived, it is Louis. A raw, honest and brave book.

Interview with Édouard Louis in the Guardian.

History of Violence by Édouard Louis is translated by Lorin Stein and published by Harvill Secker, 208 pages.

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