Stranger than fiction

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Wednesday August 8, 2018
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"History of Violence" author Edouard Louis. Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
"History of Violence" author Edouard Louis. Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

History of Violence by Edouard Louis; Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25

Already a famous author in his native land, Edouard Louis, born Edouard Bellegueule in Northern France, has now published his second work of autobiographical fiction here in America, fast on the heels of last year's breakout bestseller "The End of Eddy." "History of Violence" is a harrowing work of fictionalized fact that depicts the 25-year-old author's rape and assault during a botched hookup. Writing in increments and from multiple perspectives and timeframes, Louis works through the post-traumatic mental instability of surviving a violent, near-death experience at the hands of a stranger with whom the author had been physically intimate just minutes before.

Dictated in fits and starts in his own voice and that of his sister Clara, the narrative describes Louis meeting a pushy, smooth-talking Algerian named Reda in the pre-dawn hours of Christmas Day in 2012 while walking home to his Paris apartment from a gathering with friends. Reacting to loneliness, the holiday season, or the rugged beauty and persistence of this alluring stranger, Louis invites the man to his home, where, once they begin to get acquainted, things go horribly wrong.

Held at gunpoint, raped, then strangled almost to the point of unconsciousness, Louis finally manages to escape. Panicked, wildly confused and physically hurt, he is unsure where to go or what to do besides wash and scrub every inch of his apartment and repeatedly launder his bedsheets in scalding water.

Once he decides to file formal charges against Reda, he recounts the entire ordeal to officers who have no idea what gay cruising is, and reverse the blame onto Louis. Reda was immediately tagged "the Arab male" by the smirking racist policemen who took the author's statement and filed a report. But Louis received little compassion or support from the police. This disconnect, coupled with the careless editing found on the final police report, spurred Louis on to commit his ordeal to book form.

Haunted by the trauma, Louis fights but too often fails to curtail obsessive periods of "manic talking." Whether being triaged in the emergency room for post-exposure HIV medicine, meeting fellow authors, or with casual friends, the author compulsively felt compelled to spill out the entire ordeal with Reda at great length and in vivid detail.

Adding to his psychological torture were episodes of paranoia, fearing that "anyone could turn dangerous, even the people I was closest to, that they might turn homicidal, and be seized by a lust for blood and destruction, and simply attack me."

The trauma endures as Louis writes of fearing Reda stalking him, lurking around corners, returning to finish what he'd started. In media interviews, Louis reports that Reda was indeed found, charged for the crime, and is now on parole awaiting trial, while Louis rejects any suggestion that his assailant go to jail. An anti-prison advocate, the author prefers rehabilitative therapy. Realizing jail time was inevitable for Reda, Louis was told that recanting his accusation to spare Reda jail time was not possible, though he tried. His case remains in the political hands of the French state.

Louis will publish his third book, a work of nonfiction called "Who Killed My Father," in March 2019, detailing his father's failing health and the French class system that failed to support him as a member of the working class in his time of need.