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Agitated Neurons

John Sturrock: Michel Houellebecq, 21 January 1999

by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Paul Hammond.
Serpent’s Tail, 160 pp., £8.99, January 1999, 1 85242 584 9
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Les Particules élémentaires 
by Michel Houellebecq.
Flammarion, 394 pp., frs 105, September 1998, 2 08 067472 2
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... bad smell given off by its contents. Les Particules élémentaires is only the second novel that Michel Houellebecq has written, but a book as boldly out of tune with the times as this will have no trouble outliving the flush of suspect publicity that might have led to its swift eclipse. It is aggressive in thought, often enough tacky in deed, and ...

Why can’t he be loved?

Benjamin Kunkel: Houellebecq, 20 October 2011

The Map and the Territory 
by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Gavin Bowd.
Heinemann, 291 pp., £17.99, September 2011, 978 0 434 02141 3
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... Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory tells the story, from the standpoint of a future art history, of a canonical artist of the early 21st century, a Frenchman with the curiously American-sounding name Jed Martin. Such a backward-gazing Künstlerroman invites comparison with the trajectory of the author himself ...

Every Young Boy’s Dream

James Meek: Michel Houellebecq, 14 November 2002

by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Frank Wynne.
Heinemann, 362 pp., £12.99, September 2002, 9780434009893
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... This is the third of Michel Houellebecq’s novels, and in it, as in the previous two, his hero yearns, mostly in vain, for men and women who are strangers to each other to reach out spontaneously and touch each other: for men to be able to dispense with verbal courtship, for women to put aside cultural restraint, discrimination and any desire to be seduced; and for the sexes to spend as much time as they can cope with in mutually rewarding fornication ...

Gorilla with Mobile Phone

Theo Tait: Michel Houellebecq, 9 February 2006

Houellebecq non autorisé: enquête sur un phénomène 
by Denis Demonpion.
Maren Sell, 377 pp., €20, August 2005, 2 35004 022 4
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The Possibility of an Island 
by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Gavin Bowd.
Weidenfeld, 345 pp., £12.99, November 2005, 0 297 85098 9
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... Towards the end of Michel Houellebecq’s first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994), translated into English under the dismal title Whatever (1998), the nameless protagonist falls into a severe depression. He leaves a note on his desk saying ‘I AM SICK,’ and checks himself into a ‘rest home ...


Adam Shatz: Houellebecq submits, 9 April 2015

by Michel Houellebecq.
Flammarion, 300 pp., €21, January 2015, 978 2 08 135480 7
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... Michel Houellebecq​ ’s novel about a Muslim takeover of France is a melancholy tribute to the pleasure of surrender. It’s 2022, a charismatic Islamist politician called Mohammed Ben Abbes has become president, and France has fallen under his spell. Houellebecq’s timing could hardly have been better: Soumission was published on 7 January, the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre ...

I ♥ Cthulhu

Paul Grimstad, 21 September 2017

The Night Ocean 
by Paul La Farge.
Penguin, 389 pp., £19.99, March 2017, 978 1 101 98108 5
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... impossible to read’). But those tidy containers have long since been smashed. The first book Michel Houellebecq published was H.P. Lovecraft: Contre le monde, contre la vie, which describes the stories that made Wilson wince as constituting a ‘gigantic dream machine of astounding breadth and efficacy’.Lovecraft himself thought of his work as the ...

Closely Missed Trains

Joanna Biggs: Florian Zeller’s Hair, 12 March 2009

Artificial Snow 
by Florian Zeller, translated by Sue Rose.
Pushkin, 119 pp., £10, January 2009, 978 1 901285 84 0
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Elle t’attend 
by Florian Zeller.
Flammarion, 154 pp., €12, September 2008, 978 2 08 120749 3
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... four) and won the Prix Interallié (whose other winners include Malraux, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq). He says his biggest regret is not being English, and indeed, despite his quickly achieved yet continuing fame in France, he is almost unknown here. In the opening pages of Artificial Snow, the narrator misses the last métro, just as he ...

It belonged to us

Theo Tait: Tristan Garcia, 17 March 2011

Hate: A Romance 
by Tristan Garcia, translated by Marion Duvert and Lorin Stein.
Faber, 273 pp., £12.99, February 2011, 978 0 571 25183 4
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... category of French novels that have sold well in the English-speaking world, by authors such as Michel Houellebecq, Virginie Despentes and Frédéric Beigbeder. But even by these standards, Garcia’s debut cuts a dash. Hate confidently re-creates the Paris gay scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with the wider political disappointments and ...

Sophie missed the train

Samuel Earle: Carrère’s Casual Presence, 4 February 2021

97,196 Words: Essays 
by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by John Lambert.
Vintage, 304 pp., £9.99, December 2020, 978 1 78470 582 4
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... 23 languages and made into a movie. ‘Today, we are the two most important writers in France,’ Michel Houellebecq told Carrère in late 2018. For Houellebecq, putting another writer on the same plane as himself was a rare display of modesty, but the fact of Carrère’s two decades of critical and commercial success ...

‘It didn’t need to be done’

Tariq Ali: The Muslim Response, 5 February 2015

... feelings of minorities. Some of the latter might have been thinking of the blanket publicity for Michel Houellebecq and his new novel, Soumission, on TV and in print in the week preceding the attack on the magazine. Those with longer memories might have recalled Houellebecq’s statement in 2001, which laid the basis ...

Man-Eating Philosophers

Will Self: David Cronenberg, 18 June 2015

by David Cronenberg.
Fourth Estate, 288 pp., £18.99, October 2014, 978 0 00 729915 7
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... or the resistant Teflon-coated style of such Modernistes-nouveaux as Tom McCarthy and Michel Houellebecq; nor is it an attempt to demonstrate the semantic clumping we might expect once consciousness becomes fully technically mediated; rather it’s simply that transposition of style and methodology which is to be expected when an artist ...

Short Cuts

Tariq Ali: The Charlie Hebdo Massacre, 22 January 2015

... as long as it’s not Islamic. Denunciations of Islam have been relentless in France, with Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, Soumission (the word Islam means ‘submission’), the latest salvo. It predicts the country being ruled by a president from a group he calls the Muslim Fraternity. Charlie Hebdo, we should not forget, ran a cover ...

At the Crime Scene

Adam Shatz: Robbe-Grillet’s Bad Thoughts, 31 July 2014

A Sentimental Novel 
by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated by D.E. Brooke.
Dalkey Archive, 142 pp., £9.50, April 2014, 978 1 62897 006 7
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... At the time of Vichy, Robbe-Grillet was in Paris at the National Institute of Agronomy (which Michel Houellebecq, who found his work ‘indigestible’, would attend).* Unable to return to Brest, he ended up in Nuremberg as a forced labourer assembling Panzer tanks. He had never questioned his parents’ support for Pétain and found the war a ...


Perry Anderson: The Fall of France, 2 September 2004

La France qui tombe 
by Nicolas Baverez.
Perrin, 134 pp., €5.50, January 2004, 2 262 02163 5
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La Face cachée du ‘Monde’: Du contre-pouvoir aux abus de pouvoir 
by Pierre Péan and Philippe Cohen.
Mille et Une Nuits, 631 pp., €24, February 2003, 2 84205 756 2
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... this is what lays claim to philosophy, literature is not far behind. Today’s leading novelist, Michel Houellebecq – the ‘Baudelaire of the supermarket’ in the eyes of admirers – occupies a position not unlike that of Martin Amis in English letters, as the writer by whom readers most like to be shocked, though beyond the commonplaces of sex and ...


James Wood: St Aubyn’s Savage Sentences, 2 November 2006

Mother’s Milk 
by Edward St Aubyn.
Picador, 279 pp., £12.99, January 2006, 0 330 43589 2
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... sand.’ The novel is not without flaws. A note of male self-pity creeps in here and there, as in Michel Houellebecq’s fiction: it is tiresome to be told yet again about the dreadful ache men feel in their forties because hot young girls are no longer interested in them. (But at least St Aubyn, unlike ...

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