Angelica Chrisafis in The Guardian:
One evening in his Paris flat, Édouard Louis, the French literary star who shot to fame at 21 with The End of Eddy, his devastating account of growing up poor and gay in the north’s far-right heartlands, found something intriguing as he was sorting through papers. It was an old photograph of his mother aged 20, looking happy. “She was smiling and full of hope,” he says with utter incomprehension, because all through his childhood he’d known her as hard, stern-faced and struggling. “I immediately started asking myself what had destroyed that smile.” Louis, now 29 and at the forefront of a new generation of autobiographical writers, set out on what he calls an “archaeology of the destruction of a smile”. It plunged him back into the grey mist and red brick of his village in the Somme, to what his mum called their “ruin” of a house, with holes in the wall that let the rain in.
Monique, from a poor family in the north, became pregnant at 17, abandoned her training at a hospitality school, married for convenience at 18, and by 20 found herself stuck with a man she hated. At 23, she fled with her two children to her sister’s crowded tower‑block flat in a northern industrial town. The only way out was to find another man. Enter the aftershave-wearing (“rare in those days”) factory worker with whom she would later have Louis. Monique ended up in a tumbledown village house, raising five children (her husband refused a termination of her last pregnancy, which turned out to be twins). Louis’s father didn’t like her smiling because “it didn’t correspond to what he expected of her”, Louis says. Hers was a life of cleaning, putting meals on the table and being called a fat cow by her husband in front of everyone at the village fete. She had no driving licence, no qualifications, no money and made no decisions. As she put it: “I’m a slave to this shithole.”