Sérigne M’Baye Gueye, aka Disiz, was born in Amiens in 1978 but grew up on a high-rise estate in Evry, around 15 miles south east of Paris. Rapper, actor and author, Disiz has released eight albums since 2000 and made several film and television appearances, including Denis Tybaud’s 2005 film Dans tes rêves and French television series Hero Corp (2007) and Off Prime (2008). Disiz’s first novel Les derniers de la rue Ponty (Editions Naïve) was published in 2009. René (Editions Denoël), published in 2012, is Disiz’s second novel.
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René is set in 2025 on an impoverished and disenfranchised high-rise estate on the outskirts of Paris, following a bloody civil uprising in France and the imposition of totalitarian rule. Draconian new laws are being imposed, including the changing of all foreign-sounding first names to French-sounding ones, and the lowering of the age of majority from 18 to 14. A referendum is also to be held on whether to reinstate the death penalty. The novel is both thriller and coming of age tale, whose narrative revolves around the lives and experiences of the eponymous René and his newly acquired friend Edgar. The narrative juxtaposes the heat and haze of long summer boyhood days, with the dystopian atmosphere of derelict housing estates, unemployment, alcoholism, drug dealing and absentee parents. It is a tale of murder and social tension, in the midst of which René must try to shed his reticence and timidity in order not only to save his own life, but also attempt to help his new friend by establishing the truth behind a brutal and bloody murder, of which Edgar stands accused.
The dystopian reality of René’s world is beautifully drawn through Disiz’s spare prose. And while slang and text message language regularly appear throughout the narrative, they are used in context rather than being relied upon to create context.
Criticism for René
A novel that reads both like a contemporary thriller and a political fiction that sends chills down one’s spine.” Livres Hebdo
“Witty and clever.” Les Inrockuptibles
“Against a backdrop of extreme social tension, Disiz brings to life complex and compelling characters, some already accustomed to a world of violence, others in search of values. Encompassing an often comic eloquence, attention to detail and quality of dialogue, René is an original novel, in which familiarity with the language of high-rise estates goes hand in hand with sociological lucidity and an acute political awareness.” Evene.fr
“It may be simply to taunt Éric Zemmour, who considered rap to be a “sub-culture of illiterates”, but French hip hop artists appear to have agreed to make book shops their new hangout. Yet, while there is a profusion of autobiographies, militant works (Axion) or political-spiritual treatises (Abd Al Malik), it is rare that any of them dare venture into the world of fiction, as Disiz has done. The singer of J’pète les plombs (I’m blowing a fuse) has always been eager to stray off the beaten track, most notably recording a rock album under the pseudonym Peter Punk. René is his second novel, […] And although the plot has all the depth of a punch line, the dialogue has a certain charm (“you’ve got Ramadan breath”), while the ever-present humour acts as counterpoint to the bleakness of this sentimental education in the midst of a society in ruins. This is a very long way from the stock in trade clichés of French rap.” Scoop.it
- This title features as part of our Spring 2013 French reading group.
- Click here to read extracts translated by Viv Griffiths