‘The End of Eddy’ by Édouard Louis is a semi-autobiographical novel set in a deprived rural community in Picardy in northern France. Translated by Michael Lucey, it is a coming of age tale about Eddy Bellegueule (the author’s real name) and his life at home and at school in the late 1990s and 2000s. Eddy is gay and struggles to conform to what is widely perceived to be an acceptable type of masculinity in the small village where he is expected to go to work in the factory as soon as he leaves school. His mannerisms are routinely mocked by his peers and his family, particularly his father who even chose Eddy’s name because it sounds American and more “tough guy”. ‘The End of Eddy’ garnered lots of attention in France because Louis published his debut novel in 2014 when he was just 21 years old. However, aside from Louis’s young age and the unflinching descriptions of Eddy exploring his sexuality, ‘The End of Eddy’ also deserves acclaim more generally for articulating the reality of social exclusion in modern-day France so convincingly. Many thanks to Harvill Secker for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
‘Cry, Mother Spain’ by Lydie Salvayre won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2014 and has been translated by Ben Faccini. It tells the story of fifteen-year-old Montse and her older brother José and their experiences as teenagers at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War living in an isolated village in the north east of Spain. In the present day, Montse is very elderly and suffering from dementia but her memories of a formative period of her life remain very much intact and she discloses them to her daughter. Salvayre’s parents fled Franco’s regime and ‘Cry, Mother Spain’ is clearly a very personal work in which she gives a fictional retelling of what happened to her mother. In his translator’s note, Faccini writes that Montse speaks in a hybrid of French and Spanish, something which he conveys very effectively in his English translation, using some untranslated vocabulary from both languages where appropriate but without overdoing it. The narrative is also interspersed with the voice of French writer George Bernanos and the research he was carrying out into the atrocities at the time. However, possibly due to my lack of previous knowledge of his work, I found this strand of the novella to be quite dry and I’m still not sure if it really added much to the story alongside Montse’s more compelling account. Overall, while I found ‘Cry, Mother Spain’ to be most intriguing from a linguistic point of view, Salvayre has written a powerful narrative of one of the most turbulent conflicts of modern times which will resonate with many readers who have a particular interest in this period of history.
‘Her Father’s Daughter’ by Marie Sizun was published by Peirene Press last year as part of the Fairy Tale series. Translated by Adriana Hunter, it is a very affecting portrayal of a four-year-old girl whose father returns to France after being held prisoner in Germany during the Second World War. Despite living in Nazi-occupied Paris, she had a happy childhood with her mother and is upset by the sudden reappearance of a father she has never known who loses his temper with her very easily. Without fully understanding the consequences, she also holds a secret about why her mother took a trip to Normandy with her grandmother while her father was away. It is this aspect of the story where the quality of Sizun’s storytelling through the eyes of a very young child really comes into its own. The language in many of the Peirene titles I have read is very spare and ‘Her Father’s Daughter’ is probably the sparest yet but Sizun successfully retains its emotional power throughout.