by Michael Houellebecq
2014 / 250 pages
I finished this while I was at the coast and forgot to write up an entry for it.
It’s based on an interesting concept – what happens in the year 2022 when the Muslims have taken control of France by ballot? The guy elected to president is a moderate kind of Muslim and Christianity and other religions are tolerated – to an extent. But only Muslims are allowed to be in the “elite” or to be teachers and journalists, etc. so our hero, François, is out of a job albeit with a very good pension because the Muslim Brotherhood, with their line to Saudi Arabia, has lots of money.
But François has no wife or life outside of academia really. His life was chasing women students (or letting them chase him) and teaching and he’s generally bored a lot. He’s not really Christian, but objects to having to convert in order to continue teaching. His regular girlfriend moves to Israel as she is Jewish and there’s no telling what will happen to her people with the Muslims now in control.
François’ one interest has been the life and writings of J.K. Huysmans (1848 – 1907) the French novelist who wrote in the naturalist tradition (Zola) but then went a step further into the decadent movement (Oscar Wilde) . After that he converted to Catholicism. This is a huge theme in the Houellebecq book and I suspect both François and Houellebecq identify with Huysmans. – But through the use of Huysmans Houellebecq is able to mourn the loss of his girlfriend, his job, his country itself and French culture. The book has a very melancholic in tone.
There is quite a lot of sexist language and ideas here but those are partly from the subject matter of the Muslim treatment of women, and partly because that’s how Houellebecq writes, thinks (from what I read about his work).
Although the book is generally pretty sad, grim, bleak, there were a couple places I laughed out loud – page 37 Kindle version:
Myriam was undoubtedly the summit of my love life. How would I ever get over her? The only realistic answer was I wouldn’t.
While I was waiting to die, I still had the Journal of Nineteenth-Century Studies. Its next meeting was in less than a week. Also, election day was coming up.
I rather enjoyed reading this. I’ve not read anything by Houellebecq before although I’ve heard his name for ages. Yes, it’s sexist. But it feels like other French writing – Patrick Modiano for instance. In Modiano’s case there’s the sense of loss after WWII – with Houellebecq it’s a sense of loss of the French culture – I think – just a guess.
New York Times review by Karl Ove Knausgaard (author of My Struggle which I plan on reading in a few weeks):