cover image History of Violence

History of Violence

Édouard Louis, trans. from the French by Lorin Stein. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-17059-2

In this moving autobiographical novel, Louis (The End of Eddy) lightly fictionalizes his own rape and attempted murder in brutal detail. Late on Christmas Eve in Paris, Édouard picks up Reda, a son of a Berber immigrant, on the street and takes him back to his apartment. After the two have sex, Édouard’s accurate accusation of theft enrages Reda, who strangles him with a scarf and rapes him at gunpoint. The novel takes the form of a lengthy monologue by Édouard’s sister, Clara, recounting the event to her husband after Édouard returns to the stifling unnamed northern French village of his childhood in an attempt to cope with his trauma. In the midst of Clara’s tale, Édouard interjects additions, highlighting the pressure from his friends to report the attack to the police and his contradictory urges to talk about it and remain silent. Official systems fail to help: the police are dismissively racist and casually homophobic and doctors are cold and robotic. The unresolved conclusion, with no sense that justice has been served, heightens the horror. Louis’s visceral story captures the overwhelming emotional impact and complicated shame of surviving sexual assault. (June)