Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon review – can you escape your upbringing?

A virtuosic memoir of sexual awakening and of childhood within a French working class that now seems to have deserted the left

What has happened to the left? It’s a question being asked all over Europe, but is especially pertinent in Didier Eribon’s home country, France. In last year’s presidential election, the Socialist party candidate scored a dismal 6.2% in the first round of voting, while the Bernie Sanders-esque Jean-Luc Mélenchon (universally described as “hard left” or “far left”) was also beaten by Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Popular attachment to social democracy is seemingly in retreat almost everywhere.

In this brilliant little book, Eribon attempts to explain why, using his own experience as illustration. It is a memoir of his upbringing as a working-class boy in a family that lived in provincial public-housing estates, where everyone left school as soon as possible and worked in ...