Wednesday, May 17, 2006


John Updike reviews Michel Houellebecq's latest novel in New Yorker and doesn't like it.

A much better essay on the book was published in TLS sometime back. Check it out here. Worth reading and it is a good introduction to his work too. Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles is one of my favourite contemporary novels. It has this to say about that novel:

It starts from the premiss that in our post-faith, commodity-rich culture, personal gratification has become the highest good. The pursuit of pleasure prioritizes the self and, in the process, promotes separation and dispersal. As a result, society has reverted to its fragmented, pre-civilized form and is filled with unlinked, unfulfilled, unhappy egos, the elementary particles and unconnected atoms of the title. The novel explores the implications of this diagnosis through the lives of two brothers. Bruno succumbs to his inability to make meaningful connections, while Michel, a philosophically minded microbiologist, develops genetic theories which, in the century following his death, lead to the systematic removal of the destructive human traits of selfishness and violence. Genetic engineering and cloning offer the only way of eluding the barbarity to which economic materialism, the sexual free market, the sidelining of emotional needs, extreme liberalism and sloppy moral values are herding us.

I have linked to it before but it is worth reading again. The Times profile of Houellebecq.

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