IT IS CHRISTMAS EVE, and Eddy Bellegueule, the protagonist in Édouard Louis’ second novel, History of Violence, is walking back to his apartment after a night out with friends. He is alone near the Place de la République when he meets Reda, who has been walking quickly behind him. The two start a conversation, and Eddy is immediately attracted to him. “I wanted to take his breath in my finger and spread it all over my face,” he writes. This desire is coupled with an uncertainty about Reda’s flirtations, which seem too insistent. Despite such hesitations, Eddy does bring him to his studio apartment, where they have sex several times and spend the night together. But in between the sex, we learn of Reda’s family history, about his father’s escape from Algeria, though they are not Algerians but rather Kabyle, a minority sect in the northern part of the country. This distinction will prove important as the story goes on.
James Polchin is a frequent contributor. His book, Indecent Advances: The Hidden History of Murder and Masculinity Before Stonewall, will be published by Counterpoint Press in 2019.