Set in a post-industrial wasteland of Northern France, this unsentimental portrait of life in a white underclass community surviving on welfare is also an unrelentingly grim coming of age memoir. The narrator’s outsider status is established from birth as an effeminate boy trying to blend into a brutal macho culture in order to avoid constant bullying. The uncomfortable reading experience is balanced by the inspirational message of the account.
Today I’m gonna be a tough guy. I remember it because I would always repeat exactly the same sentence, in the same way as you repeat a prayer, in the same words, the exact same words. Today I’m gonna be a tough guy (and now I’m crying as I write these lines; I’m crying because I find that sentence hideous and ridiculous, that sentence that went everywhere with me for several years and was, I don’t think I’m exaggerating, at the centre of my being).