A son discovers himself by writing about his mother

Children do not always see their parents as individuals, as whole persons, especially during childhood. In a fictionalized memoir, the French writer Édouard Louis tries to show it in a journey that speaks at least as much about himself as about his mother in One woman’s struggles and transformations.

In this short work, Louis recalls how ashamed he was of his mother when he was a child, how ridiculous she seemed. Whether he was fully aware of it or not, he was just repeating the words of his abusive, alcoholic father. The brutality of young Eddy’s first memories is striking.

His mother raised five children. Each of his marriages becomes worse than the last. Monica’s life is full of drudgery and slaps, whether it’s being derided by her husband and children or falling for scams when she dares to dream of something better.

This reader wondered why he was writing about his mother if he disdained her so much. And how he hid the truth about himself from her (the author did not reveal his homosexuality to his mother for years, even blaming her for hiding her light under a bushel to stay with an abusive husband, made him better than his).

The question arose whether this meant that the author was trying to understand his mother and have compassion for her? And if he could do that, would he begin to understand and have compassion for himself?

Louis processes this idea by reminiscing and ruminating on the past. He also struggles with how he perceived his mother and with the facts of his life, while looking through the lenses of class differences, gender differences, and sexual identification differences. None of this is easy, but rather comes across as a sincere question, observation and partial understanding of things.

He even wonders if he is qualified to understand his mother’s life because it is a woman’s life “if I am constructed, perceived and defined by the world around me as a man? Louis then works on the idea of ​​not being confined by the definitions of the world, especially as a gay man, and later comes to the conclusion that:

(I started this book wanting to tell the story of a woman, but realized that yours is the story of a human being who fought for the right to exist as a woman. , as opposed to the inexistence that your life imposes on you, and by life with my father.)

It’s observations like that that made me glad I read the book. (Well, that and Catherine’s story Deneuve.) Reaching the point where one can recognize and work through differences, being able to recognize the humanity in an individual’s story, is a strength that anyone can use.

Louis also notes how, as the first family member to move and attend college, he embraced speaking as an upper-class person, and how he did so to separate himself from his mother and the lower. He also writes about how his mother thought she was descended from an upper-class family, and how even his own working-class family was higher up the class ladder than the drunks in his family. dad.

For a short time, his mother is friends with an upper-class woman. Angelique inspires Monica to take better care of herself and she begins to shine. But after Angélique meets a man from her class, she abandons her friend. It’s just one more example of how hopeless Monica’s life seems, that even when she tries and things start to look up, it won’t end well.

Until it does.

One day, Louis receives a most unexpected call from his mother:

“Finally. I did it.”

“I’ll never wait for him again. I’m sick of waiting.”

(I was proud of you. Did I tell you?)

I did not see the difficulties you encountered.

In these short sentences, Louis shows how his mother never gave up, no matter what hopeless picture he painted and what is statistically true. And he shows us how an adult child can see his parent in a new light. Earlier, Louis provided another line of thought on why he writes about his mother and why it matters:

I have been told that literature should never attempt to explain, only to capture reality, but I write to explain and understand its life.

I have been told that literature should never repeat itself, but I want to write the same story over and over again, to come back to it until it reveals bits of its truth, to dig hole after hole in it until that all that is hidden begins to seep out.

I have been told that literature should never look like a display of feelings, but I write only to let the emotions flow, those feelings that the body cannot express.

The book is beautifully translated by novelist Tash Aw, whose work here makes clear what might have been convoluted.

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