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 René



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

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  1. Maria Moorwood says:

    Not sure if anyone has finished this one yet but here are some thoughts.

    I thought that it was well paced and easy to read. I liked the humour and thought that the dialogue between the young protagonists was well rendered. However, in general it felt like the skeleton of something more, which is to say that, for example, I would have liked greater dimension given to the characters and a stronger ending. The latter felt rushed almost as if Disiz had run out of steam. Finally I don’t think that setting the story in the future added anything to it and the Instinctphone felt like a token nod of the head. I enjoyed the read much more when I was not being forced to buy into a future but left to draw parallels to the Arab spring or riots in Paris, even in UK in 2011.

    In general I was entertained enough to read on but I don’t think it will go down in my top or most memorable reads.

    Would be interested to know what other thought and happy to forward it on or leave at the French Institute for collection if anyone is interested.

  2. Katia Leloutre says:

    Hi Maria and all,
    I thought it started strongly – this ‘montée en puissance’ of radicalism is what we dread to see happen; it sounded both frightening and plausible. In light of the 2011 riots, I thought it would have something to say to a UK audience. But “René” is not a political or a futuristic story. In an interview at the Salon du Livre, Disiz pretty much describes the book as a ‘roman d’initiation’ – two boys who become adults in the summer of their first times. The political setting seems nothing more than a setting, but as it raised my expectations the artificiality of the book became its disappointment. If anything I felt that “René” depicted the ‘cités’ as we have known them. Although it has its own style and contains some nice moments, “René” is also a polar, and I did not particularly enjoy its bouts of violence… It became quite clear that things would end badly, although the end is unresolved, and that it does feel that René’s escape, parachuted from a situation that has gone out of control into a hospital haven, is miraculous. I am not sure that I enjoyed the text language either, and René’s constant arguing about it, more annoyingly. But for all my reservations, I may not be the fairest reader…
    The Salon du Livre interview for those interested:

  3. Maria Moorwood says:

    Thanks, I agree totally with you and found your comments really helpful in clarifying my own position. I don’t think the novel is supposed to be futuristic but Disiz does try to make small attempts at locating it in the future. This lends nothing to the plot or the characters and I think that you are right he does not really give us a new perspective on the cités or the young people living in them and trying to muddle there way through. If it is a ‘roman d’initiation’ there is also something there of a young man with the potential to make good but who is failed by circumstances, but this is not pursued. The text language was incidental to me, just evidence of a younger generation and a very blunt one at that. But what I found more irritating was a half hearted attempt at creating a ‘new generation mobile phone’ that is really nothing different and falls flat. I will stop now and check out the interview.

  4. Nancy Pile says:

    Things I enjoyed about reading Rene were that I was moved by the characters and their predicament. The pace and the language worked for me. Found it an easy read. It certainly felt like the book was really a “roman d’initiation” rather than deeper political commentary. Setting it in the future seemed an interesting idea, but I too was disappointed that the author did not extrapolate or create any really new ideas or insights with this device.

  5. Patricia Sommer says:

    I thought the book was well written. The language is both poetic, humoristic and violent/crude.
    It contains a lot of ‘verlan’ and ‘argot’ which would be difficult to convey in translation so I wouldn’t say it’s a good candidate for AOS.
    The violence is disturbing and made me uneasy but the book is quite compulsive reading and exerts a strange fascination. I wanted to stop but couldn’t.
    The snuff movie is reminiscent of Houellebecq’s “Les particules élémentaires” and the violence contrasts with René’s innocence. We care about what happens to him and we feel for him at the end (well I did anyway!). Although the characters are very dark and in some cases repulsive (Balna) they all have something fragile about them.
    What makes the book so disturbing is that it is set in 2017 (not a long way into the future) and already a lot of what it describes has happened although on a much smaller scale and what hasn’t happened yet (the police state, the extreme violence in the suburbs, Marine Le Pen as Prime Minister) could very easily happen given the right circumstances.

  6. Viv Griffith says:

    I found the book as a whole tremendously enjoyable to read and the characters engaging, especially René himself. The fact that the narrative is set in the future does seem a bit arbitrary at certain points, but I didn’t read that to mean the story was meant to be futuristic in any way. I agree with Patricia Sommer in that setting the narrative in the near future does render it unsettling, as it isn’t very far removed from our own everyday lives. However, I think the bulk of the narrative is actually set around 2026. I also found the dystopian nature of the narrative satisfyingly unsettling in that it isn’t really all that far fetched to imagine a France where Marine Le Pen might be nominated Prime Minister or the CRS might impose martial law.
    Linguistically, I found “René” fairly easy to read. I struggled a bit at first with certain parts of the text message language but, even that wasn’t too much of a challenge once I got into the swing of things. There is a fair bit of ‘argot’ and ‘verlan’, which in general doesn’t translate easily into English. However, while the narrative is set around a ‘cite’ on the outskirts of Paris, I think there are enough universal themes in the book – disenfranchisement, consumerism, accessibility of and desensitisation to snuff/porn movies, racism, corrupt governance, lack of a robust and credible voice of opposition, fear and distrust of the police, lack of hope for the future, substance misuse, etc. – represented by the characters, that I don’t think anything would be lost if the slang were to be voiced in the same way as, for example, Sarah Ardizzone has done in her translations of Faiza Guene’s novels “Kiffe kiffe demain”, “Les gens du balto” and “Du rêve pour les oufs” i.e. using the voice of the London teenager.
    On the other hand, I do think my enjoyment of the work was enriched by my contextual knowledge of ‘les cites’, the debates around what it means to be ‘French’, the Front National and accusations of institutional racism that are frequently levelled at the police/CRS in France. Commentary on these subjects is widespread in France; would a reader without this wider context find the narrative lacking?
    My overarching impression of “René” is that it would be a really great choice for a French A-level or first year undergrad reading list. However, in terms of suitability for the AOS, even though I really enjoyed the book, I would say perhaps not. I think it would appeal to anyone who has already read any of the Faiza Guene’s novels in translation, or English language novels such as Gautam Malkani’s “Londonstani”. But, I don’t know if these are the same people who subscribe to AOS.


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