Much like his earlier The End of Eddy, Édouard Louis’s History of Violence is an autobiographical “novel” in which the events that form the frame of the story are true and other parts have been imaginatively reordered. The narrative is divided into two components: Louis’s first-person experience of being raped and nearly killed on Christmas Eve 2012 in Paris, and the same story as retold by Louis’s sister to his brother-in-law when the character/author returns to his small hometown after the incident. Reda, his hookup-turned-rapist, is a character who makes Louis alternately uneasy, excited, protective, and fearful.
At its best, History of Violence is about the tension between desire and danger, between passion and destruction, and about how individuals heal from trauma without allowing themselves to remain perpetual victims. Against expectations, Louis’s novel is an act of empowerment in a time when too many encourage responses that disempower. Throughout, the author wrestles between liberalized notions of how the world should be and conservative ones of how the world is. Throughout, we see him strip away the liberal tendency to empathize with criminals as victims of social failures.