Thursday, February 02, 2006


Nice article on Houellebecq in the latest London Review of Books. Good summary of his life and career so far and a few harsh words on his latest novel.

Houellebecq has established himself as one of the great international brands of popular literary fiction. But there is a great deal of disagreement over whether he’s a genius, a fraud or a reprobate. Responses to his novels largely fall into three categories. The first is euphoric: Houellebecq as visionary. According to this view, he sees the dehumanising effects of the market, the breakdown of religion and the family, and the unbearable tensions of Western life: the sexual misery, the inevitable conflict between Western morals and Islam.

The second view is that, though his perspective is not necessarily right – and probably rather regrettable – it’s an interesting and prevalent one, and illuminates the attitude of many people in modern France and Europe. As Salman Rushdie put it, ‘Platform is a novel to go to if you want to understand the France beyond the liberal intelligentsia, the France that gave the left such a bloody nose in the last presidential election, and whose discontents and prejudices the extreme right was able to exploit.’ On this view, Houellebecq speaks, though in a rarefied and intellectual tone, for les beaufs – the hicks, the Le Penistes. This is also true in the realm of sexual politics: he represents unreconstructed man, slavering and masturbatory, whose existence tends to get glossed over in the era of supposed sexual liberation and equality. As an unnamed Dutch academic quoted in a recent Sunday Times profile remarked, he reveals ‘the vile 20 per cent of himself’ that most people keep hidden.

The third attitude is outright disapproval. Houellebecq is a disgusting sexist, racist, eugenicist and pervert, who ought to repulse us. He is a professional provocateur, a marketing whizz, whose success is down to his courting of controversy, to the racist jokes and great dollops of pornography in his work.

Personally I am more or less with the first group!


Hiren said...

Going by the ways of the world and the tendency to salute the rising sun, I think your views should prevail provided he is consistently succesful. If only every writer could be a novelist-that's where the moolah lies.

Alok said...

Nothin wrong in saluting the rising sun I would say!