The Guardian talks to wunderkind French novelist Édouard Louis about his working-class background and Marine Le Pen, who is increasingly winning the support of French voters like his parents—people who once staunchly supported the Socialist Party but who now feel abandoned by the institutional left. Louis’s best-selling 2014 novel En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (The End of Eddy), which was shortlisted for the Goncourt literary prize in France, is based on his hardscrabble upbringing in a small factory town in northern France. Louis suggests that for the working class, politics is a literally question of “life and death,” whereas the bourgeois politicians of the Socialist Party are completely detached from this reality. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Today, Louis, whose account of his escape from a violent, joyless childhood has made him a bestselling author, can have steak any day he chooses. Back in his home town, meanwhile, just six weeks from a presidential election, his parents, like much of France’s underclass, are heeding the siren call of the poor’s new perceived champion, Marine Le Pen, and her promises of plenty in a France for the French.
Far from making him turn away from his background, Louis’s access to the literary beau monde of Paris has heightened his belief that politics remains a curse for what his mother would call the “poor, small folk”.
“The word politics means different things to different social classes. How can politics create a better life if the individuals who create those politics are so lightly touched by its effects, if politics doesn’t strike them in the way that it would strike the people of my childhood?” he asks.
“In the lower classes, politics has always been a matter of life and death. My parents were desperate at the idea of losing some badly needed social benefit, which might make the difference between whether we could go to the dentist. I was 15 when my father went to the dentist for the first time because the government created a new health benefit.
“On the day when the amount of the allowance at the start of the school year was raised, my father, with a joy we rarely saw because he usually played at being the man of the house who could not show his feelings, shouted: ‘Sunday, we’re going to the seaside.’ And indeed we went, six of us in a car big enough for five. I rode in the boot.