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  • Writer's pictureCharles Arrowsmith

Review: Change by Édouard Louis (Washington Post)

Halfway through “Change,” our hero Eddy Bellegueule, still a teen, goes to a lecture by the sociologist Didier Eribon about his book “Returning to Reims.” Though the speaker is nearly four decades his senior, Eddy finds himself strongly identifying with Didier’s story. Both men come from impoverished industrial towns in northern France. They’re both gay. Didier’s experiences of class violence, homophobia and shame sound like Eddy’s own. The encounter is like a flash of lightning, illuminating for Eddy a path he didn’t know he was on.

After moving to Paris, he sketches a plan: “Change my name (go to court?), Change my face, Change my skin (tattoo?), Read (become someone else, write), Change my body, Change my habits, Change my life (become someone).” Young Eddy would soon become the author Édouard Louis, so you may think the rest is history. But that’s just half the story.

“Change,” Louis’s fifth book, translated from French by John Lambert, is about the strain his efforts at transformation placed on him. Though labeled “a novel,” its amorphousness ensures it doesn’t stay long in a single genre. Like “Returning to Reims,” upon which it’s clearly modeled, “Change” is a hybrid of memoir and polemic, combining scenes from Louis’s adolescence and early adulthood — picking up where his celebrated debut, “The End of Eddy,” left off. Ultimately, it’s an angry, defiant book whose emotional power derives from Louis’s conflicted feelings about his status.

For the review in full, visit The Washington Post.

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