Édouard Louis held nothing back in his third novel
by Olivia Walters featuring Martin Boujol
Lire en français ici.
I’m over the moon about today’s book review. Who Killed My Father by Édouard Louis sent chills down my spine.
The author picked up media attention after the release of his first novel The End of Eddy, translated into 20 languages. In 2016, his second novel The History of Violence kickstarted a wave of directors practically rushing to adapt the novelist’s books to theater.
Who Killed My Father came into my life when I finished college. I was caught up in a whirlwind of emotions about my social standing after racking up $50,000 in debt from a private university. Life didn’t make much sense so I turned to literature about transformation.
Édouard Louis hits a sore spot.Martin Boujol
Who Killed My Father put the words in my mouth and connected the dots that I didn’t understand at the time.
It’s the story about a boy’s awakening since departing his childhood home.
Literature is a weapon
Today you guys are in for a treat. I joined forces with another book blogger for a discussion about Who Killed My Father in the style of a written podcast.
I’ve been reading in French for six years. That’s why I love sharing my opinions for English speakers interested in contemporary French literature.
Martin Boujol, the founder of the blog La nuit sera mots, joins me today to discuss how literature can become a tool for accusing power systems and an instrument for glorifying vengeance.
Hey there Martin! For starters, can you introduce yourself and share your thoughts on Who Killed My Father for everyone?
Martin: Of course! Thank you for suggesting this collaboration. This is the first time I’ve co-written an article and it’s been a fun and interesting experience.
A bit about me though; my name is Martin and I’m the creator of the blog La nuit sera mots, which I started in August 2019.
About the book: I absolutely loved it. It’s a great example of how we can say so much by writing very little (85 pages). The writing style is clear, scathing, and right to the point. Édouard Louis hits a sore spot and holds nothing back. Despite the book’s brevity, it’s everything except light reading.
It’s funny because despite the title, which clearly targets a suspect, I didn’t read the book as a vindictive work; it was just the opposite. I had the impression of reading a son’s cry for a relationship with his father that never existed. For me, the search for a culprit is washed out by the narrator’s sadness.
Words that burn
Olivia: Well said, Martin. Let’s talk about the book’s boldness.
Given that Louis throws oil on a fire involving the absence of his father—that’s exactly his goal in writing the book, he writes, “to respond to the demands of necessity, urgence, and fire” (23)—the reader may feel somewhat awkward, even ashamed to participate in such an intimate confession from a son clashing with his father.
Is this story a window into the family dynamic between an inexistent father and a misunderstood son?
Or, are we, the readers, supposed to understand it as a love letter addressed to Louis’ father as The Guardian suggested? Are we witness to their reconciliation?
Martin: So I don’t think there’s a place to sense any form of shame in reading this book. As soon as the author puts his agony on paper, he wants/needs to express himself and talk about it.
On the other hand, his father might feel shame.
With that in mind, the debate in literature surrounding family is another question. Any autobiographical novel rubs someone the wrong way as soon as it puts friends and family in the spotlight, whether or not the person was offensive and isn’t satisfied with the way they’re portrayed.
I think this book is a boy’s cry for the love he couldn’t but wanted to share with his father. A love letter that tells him “I did everything to love and make you happy, Dad, but you didn’t want it or couldn’t understand.”
As Marguerite Duras wrote: “Writing is screaming in silence,” and I think that’s exactly what we witness in this novel.
Are we witness to their reconciliation? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
The true tragedy of the book is that Edouard and his father are pulled apart. Edouard as a child is all alone. We can’t save his childhood because it’s already behind him. Do you really think the two find common ground?
The intersection of truth and politics
Olivia: Writing an autobiography means not being afraid to let oneself be open to the truth about our existence. On that note, I agree.
Ah, my soul sister Marguerite Duras. How she captures such beauty and simplicity in just five words.
To respond to your question, let me share what Louis said after the book’s release in an interview with La Grande Librairie: “My father is someone who learned sort of a new dialogue after the book came out. I can’t speak for him, but I actually think my father started thinking about himself differently.”
So if Louis fills the void between him and his father, I’d say it’s due to the book’s discourse, which prompts their communication.
But moving on— because I’m curious to know since you live in Europe—does this book come down on past French presidents and highlight their flaws/mistakes in terms of the working class?
How can readers outside of Europe understand the dishonest actions of French government (the dominants) against the so-called idle workers (the dominated)?
Martin: So you have to know one thing and that’s despite the European Union, Europe is pretty divided. Each country has its own culture, government, internal politics, and scandals. Since I’m not French but Swiss, I haven’t really been able to see how the middle class is underprivileged and angry towards their government.
I do know we often accuse the French of being lazy complainers. Sure, it’s true for some, but not more so than in other countries.
I could get into a long explanation with plenty of theory about what isn’t going right in France and their historical feuds, but this would be too long.
But in the case of Who Killed My Father, it isn’t a question of a lazy, idle worker but of a true victim that the system ignores. I’d say the book denounces a system that doesn’t have the required efficacy to help each of its citizens with level consideration.
Olivia: What Louis shares about his childhood felt really relatable to certain moments in my life. It’s a book I’d encourage anyone to read, because the themes aren’t only exclusive to marginalized peoples.
It’s an inflammatory announcement, accusing the French political power of having no conscience of the effects their decisions bring. I won’t say that Louis borders on propaganda, but I wonder how he can successfully tell his father’s story despite their rocky relationship.
It is imaginable for a child to duly narrate a parent’s life? What do you think Martin?
Martin: I think this is a theme that shows up in literature a lot. To stay within French literature, we find plenty of books that talk about parents, whether it’s the mother (Promise At Dawn by Romain Gary and Book of My Mother by Albert Cohen) or the father (My Father’s Glory by Marcel Pagnol and A Father’s Love by Jacques Chessex, to name a Swiss author).
The relationship can be good or bad, contentious or not. If in Who Killed My Father we see hints of a connection, in Promise At Dawn we see a true love story between a son and his mother.
Olivia: I’ll have to check out your recommendations! Let me go ahead and thank you Martin. We had a really good time working on this project and I hope our readers will enjoy it too. I’ll keep following your blog La nuit sera mots.
Happy reading my friends! Feel free to reach out to talk more about Édouard Louis. I’m a huge fan of his writing.
Author bio: Martin Boujol was always fascinated by literature and the different ways we write and share stories. Studying business innovation at the University of St.Gallen, he opened La nuit sera mots mid-2019 to share his impressions and spread his love of books.
Author bio: Olivia Walters finished her B.A. in French two years ago from Furman University. Her exploration of Francophone literature has led her to many places: a tattoo parlor where she got an homage to her literary hero Alain Mabanckou, a New York book signing in 2019 where she met Édouard Louis during the US theatre premiere of The End of Eddy, and Amazon Prime, the easiest place for her to order French books in the US.