2019 In Review: And The Winner Is...

on Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Well, this is a first. A non-fiction book? Only 80 pages? Who even am I? In what turned out to be a pretty good reading year for me - 129 books (dammit I hate not finishing on a round number) - it was Édouard Louis's tiny gem that stood out from all the others. Sure, it might be short, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for with an abundance of depth, heart and rage. Those familiar with Louis's previous two books will no doubt have expected something incendiary and urgent, but what might surprise readers is just how tender this book is. Gone is the artifice of autofiction. Who Killed My Father is straight-up memoir, which Louis deftly uses to build towards a jaw-dropping J'Accuse-style denouement.

It begins with Louis returning to the dull, depressed town in which he grew up, to visit his dying father. The two have had a fraught relationship; Louis is a prodigiously talented, gay firebrand. His father is thoroughly working class, a product (and victim) of the crushing machinery of French capitalism. For a long time he simply couldn't understand or accept his son. Through reflections on his childhood and teen years, as well as the visit itself, Louis charts the steady decline of a proud man. It is a sad, painful march towards what could be ultimately viewed as a meaningless death.

What might have been a wholly glum undertaking is lifted to the realm of high art by Louis's ability to find courage and dignity in his father's ordinary existence. And, in a transformation that might strikes some readers as surreal as Gregor Samsa's (it's worth noting that this almost reads like a counterpoint to Kafka's Letter To My Father), Louis's dad rises above his unsophisticated prejudices to love his son, and genuinely try to understand him. Louis, in turn, comes to understand and appreciate his father.

All of this alone would have made Who Killed My Father an incredible book. Louis, however, is not satisfied to leave his father's sad fate unaccounted for. And so we are treated to the most ferocious, intellectually satisfying and downright brilliant critique of the French class structure that you're likely to encounter. It's worth noting that the title does not end with a question mark. Louis isn't trying to discover who killed his father. He knows. The book, therefore, is an indictment, and a damning one at that. These are not words. They are lightning bolts. The last few pages had me crying with rage, and sobbing at the pure act of love all I had read represented. There aren't many books I can say changed the way I think about the world. This is one of them.

Happy New Year everyone. Here's hoping 2020 brings our world a little closer to decency, kindness and justice.


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