Men – English and French- write about violence and abuse.
As the TV version of Edward St Aubyn’s novels about aristocrat Patrick Melrose are broadcast, detailing the horror of a brutal upper-class English childhood, the sexual abuse by his father, the neglect of his mother, his own desperate inadequacy, it reminds me of another book I read recently. The End of Eddy (En finir avec Eddy Bellegeule) is written by a young Frenchman, Edouard Louis, and describes his experience of growing up in a poor working class town in Northern France, neglected, deprived, abused by family and other children, desperate to conceal his homosexuality. It was a huge success in France, and subsequently translated, exploring a world and experience hitherto almost undocumented, almost unknown, certainly to a literary world.
I realised how similar they were, the stories of these two unhappy men. One book describes poor people and violence and abuse, the other rich people and violence and abuse. Whether they are raped aged five, by father in a chateau in the South of France, or regularly beaten up by a drunken stepfather in an overcrowded hovel, bullied as a pédé by boys at school, or taunted by vicious upper class snobs. Both novels are based on the real experiences of the writers, equally screwed up whether holding a glass of champagne at an English garden party or bumming a cigarette at the bus stop. In both cases the problems result from the structure of society – a patriarchal society that insists on a certain kind of masculinity, of bravado.
Both though, crucially, are redeemed by writing – St Aubyn after years of heroin addiction, articulating with coruscating honesty and immaculate style his pain and frustration, and Eddy after escaping to a school which developed his theatrical and writing talents and encouraged him to express himself. Both writers bravely explore their male experience, important steps towards greater understanding of how much men and boys can suffer. And maybe a step towards the male conscious-raising our world desperately needs.