Who is Eddy Belleguele?
All translations were made by myself from the French text ‘En finir avec Eddy Belleguele. They are therefore likely to be less accurate and different from those found in ‘The End of Eddy.’
Who is Eddy Belleguele? Firstly he is the subject of a novel’s title. En finir avec Eddy Belleguele, published in France in 2014 or the English translation The End of Eddy, published in February of this year. The novel is an autofiction about Edouard Louis’ childhood, growing up in poverty in the village of Hallencourt, Picardy, northern France.
Secondly, he is/was the son of a man and woman, born in 1992. The son, Édouard Louis no longer takes that name. He describes Belleguele as his “family name”, a family he is to some extent estranged from through his rejection of their chosen name for him and their family name. Estranged from throug writing En finir avec Eddy Belleguele.
Yet Louis has not always been estranged from his family in this way and perhaps not even always from his name. Where does Eddy Belleguele begin? It seems with Édouard Louis’ Father’s idea of what his son would be. Édouard Louis has spoken about how Eddy was a “popular” and “masculine” boys name at the time. “My father gave me [it] because he wanted me to reproduce his whole masculinity. My father desperately wanted a strong, tough boy.” Masculinity and strength expressed through the body were fetishized in the town Louis says because there was nothing else: “When you just have the body, you end up creating an ideology of the body.”
In the novel, the ideal of Eddy Belleguele is constructed through what is opposite to the narrator, exemplified by his brother. In one scene Louis describes how he tried to convince his parents that his intention of going to nightclubs was to pick up girls. His Father, not believing him, questions why then he doesn’t bring girls back each month to show off to his parents as his brother does. The narrator grapples with his inability to live up to this masculine ideal, constructed through as diverse things as football, girls and hip-hop. Instead he likes theatre, boys and Variété Française. Eddy Belleguele is what the narrator is not. He is a nebulous stranger stood opposite Louis looking at him: no matter how much the narrator tries to resemble him, he is grasping at water, perceived always back to front.
Does Eddy Belleguele ever really exist then or does he remain just a shadowy figure in his Father’s imagination? Meeting girls is one of the main ways that the masculine Eddy Belleguele would manifest himself. “Becoming a boy obviously meant crossing girls” the narrator says at the beginning of a chapter in which he attempts to become the boy imagined by his parents. In this chapter, he begins dating a girl. Initially he is repelled by her but in one scene the narrator describes getting an erection whilst kissing her. It is described as a physical desire which is “impossible to fake or pretend.” The physical response is a sign of masculine legitimacy for the narrator: a physical manifestation of the virile ideal that is Eddy Belleguele. In this moment, the persona of Eddy Belleguele is subsumed into the narrator, even if he only believes so temporarily.
In an interview, Édouard Louis has described the book as the story of his younger self. “It’s my first novel. It’s the story of a child, as it happens it’s me.” As a piece of autofiction written in the first person, it’s clear that the voice of the narrator is a younger Édouard Louis. Although to what extent can this younger Édouard Louis also be considered as Eddy Belleguele?
The writing of the book can be viewed as a voyage of escape by the narrator from the oppressive identity of Eddy Belleguele. The book is preceded by a quote of Marguerite Duras which refers to the act of fleeing from the power of labels given by names, “Pour la première fois mon nom prononcé ne nomme pas (For the first time my spoken name doesn’t represent me). In an interview with Le Devoir, Édouard Louis develops the relationship between the novel and the quotation of Duras, “Breaking with Eddy Belleguele ensures that this name doesn’t name me, it’s a break with my past.”
In equating his past with Eddy Belleguele, Édouard Louis affirms that Eddy Belleguele is the narrator at some point in the past as recounted in the book. At what point though is the past and with it Eddy Belleguele written out of the book, finished, and Édouard Louis written in?
Most likely in the epilogue, upon the narrator’s arrival at the lycée of theatre in Amiens. The writing changes here. Short sentences and words tumble prematurely onto the line below, mimicking poetry. The change of location also gels with the idea of an end of or break with something. Books i and ii took place solely in the village, apart from the lycée audition at the end of book ii.
In fact, Eddy Belleguele seems inseparable from the village of Hallencourt. At the lycée of theatre in Amiens, decontextualised, Eddy Belleguele as conceived by the narrator’s Father is an empty vessel, without meaning. The bourgeoisie “don’t define manliness like my Father” the narrator observes. The narrator soon deposes of this defunct identity, symbolically throwing his Airness jacket, bought for him by his parents at Christmas, in a public bin. He is “full of shame” when he does this, but the focus of his shame is not specified: is it his rejection of Eddy Belleguele and therefore his past or the identity of Eddy Belleguele and the past it represents?
Just after this symbolic disposal, Eddy Belleguele resurfaces at the book’s closure, in the third to last line. A student at the lycée jokingly asks the narrator ‘“So Eddy, still a fag?”’. Upon hearing the remark, the other students laugh, recalling earlier scenes at the collège where the narrator was mocked for his femininity. This time though the narrator joins in with the laughing.
Identity, in this scene, is presented as something constructed by the utterances of others. Despite throwing away the Airness jacket, the narrator is still “Eddy” to the other students. This is a recurring motif in the novel, it also appears at the collège where the was narrator is called a “fag,” despite acquiring a girlfriend, which he incorrectly presumes will make him be considered heterosexual by the others.
However, it is hard to imagine “Eddy” laughing off remarks about his sexuality as the narrator does in this scene. Eddy Belleguele is the boy who agonises over his lack of masculinity, repeating “Today I will be tough” to himself in the bathroom mirror. The narrator himself has clearly broken with his past. He is no longer Eddy Belleguele himself, but this doesn’t really matter. If he is still perceived as “Eddy” by others, he is still very much trapped in Eddy Belleguele.
With the critical and commercial success of the novel, it sold more than 160,000 copies in the first three months of its release in France, the reader’s perception and understanding of Eddy Belleguele, the narrator and Édouard Louis has dominated. A hunt for veracity about Eddy Belleguele and the events detailed in the book has preoccupied the media. Louis’ Mother has appeared on TV expressing dismay at the book’s representation of the inhabitants of Hallencourt as racists and homophobes. Notably, she refers to Édouard Louis as “Eddy” still. The headlines of articles resurrect Eddy Belleguele, ‘La famille d’ “Eddy Bellegueule” blessée par le livre d’Édouard Louis’ (CultureBox) or ‘Les deux visages d’Eddy Bellegueule’ (Le Courrier Picard). Louis’ surrendered identity is repeatedly bequeathed to him by others and propagated to a larger audience through the media. In these circumstances, one may question how convincing the Duras quotation at the beginning of the novel now is. The name still identifies Louis, and perhaps even louder than before, even if he no longer recognises it himself.
This kind of labelling is something all authors successful to any degree critically or commercially must deal with. However, for Édouard Louis there is a bitter irony that a book which in his own words allowed him to “break” from the past, from Eddy Belleguele, simultaneously allows for the largescale perpetuation of Eddy Belleguele, far beyond Hallencourt from which the identity seemed inseparable. When during an interview his Mother says “Eddy, it’s my son,” we are left to ask who is this Eddy, this phantom persona she still calls her son? One thing is for sure: it’s not, it’s no longer, Édouard Louis.