Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
After posting that little excerpt from The End of Eddy I ended up reading the English version yesterday. Excellent, although the translation isn’t quite as stylish as the French original; but no less poignant. Here’s part of an article the author wrote about the book:
“Literature was not something we paid any attention to – quite the opposite. On television we would see that literary prizes went mostly to books that did not speak of us, and in any case, just like the taxi driver, we were aware that, prize or no prize, books in general took no interest in our lives. My mother would say it over and over: us, the little folks, no one is interested in us. It was the feeling of being invisible in the eyes of other people that drove her to vote for Marine Le Pen, as did most of my family. My mother would say: she’s the only one who talks about us. The Front National got more than 50% of the vote in the village where I was born, and that vote was above all, beyond racism, beyond anything else, a desperate attempt to exist, to be noticed by others.
Many of the authors who have meant the most to me, such as James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir or Didier Eribon, wrote about the liberating effect of literature in powerful ways that continue to affect new generations of readers. Yet however different Baldwin’s childhood was from de Beauvoir’s, mine was like neither of theirs: in my childhood, there were no books. My parents have never read a book in their lives; there wasn’t a single book in our house. For us, a book was a kind of assault: it represented a life we would never have, the life of people who pursue an education, who have time to read, who have gone to university and had an easier time of it than us.”
The book hit me just as hard as when I read it in French. Maybe a little harder because once you read it in two languages, there’s less room in the mind for that psychological manoeuvring one does to make things seem less bleak or painful than they really are. It wasn’t really that bad, right?
My first instinct reading it was the desire to swoop in, to save him. To go back in time and fix it, to be his friend. And with that I wondered if my swooping is really to save him, or myself. And I wonder if I’m being selfish to think that. In the author’s equation the variable on which he places the most weight is poverty. He feels that is the root of the ignorance, machismo/homophobia and the generalised distress he endures throughout childhood and adolescence. And yet I, not quite the child of the industrial north, but a gay boy nonetheless, hated my childhood and adolescence with fervour as well.
I couldn’t stand most of my family. My parents in particular. I found their presence- their very existence, an inconvenience. And I felt (I suppose still feel) guilty for that. I know just saying that out loud makes people uncomfortable, but it’s true.
And here’s a great interview with him: