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Agitated Neurons

John Sturrock: Michel Houellebecq

21 January 1999
Whatever 
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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... argument turned, as by custom it does, on the forgettability of the novel they have picked, not on any bad smell given off by its contents. Les Particules élémentaires is only the second novel that MichelHouellebecq 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 ...

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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... MichelHouellebecq’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 ...

Every Young Boy’s Dream

James Meek: Michel Houellebecq

14 November 2002
Platform 
by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Frank Wynne.
Heinemann, 362 pp., £12.99, September 2002, 9780434009893
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... This is the third of MichelHouellebecq’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 ...

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 MichelHouellebecq’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 ...

Colombey-les-deux-Mosquées

Adam Shatz: Houellebecq​ submits

8 April 2015
Soumission 
by Michel Houellebecq.
Flammarion, 300 pp., €21, January 2015, 978 2 08 135480 7
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... MichelHouellebecq​ ’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 ...

I ♥ Cthulhu

Paul Grimstad

20 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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... describes Agatha Christie’s prose as having a ‘mawkishness and banality which seem to me literally impossible to read’). But those tidy containers have long since been smashed. The first book MichelHouellebecq 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 ...

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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... into a dozen languages, taught at Sciences Po, left Sciences Po to direct his plays (he’s written four) and won the Prix Interallié (whose other winners include Malraux, Bernard-Henri Lévy and MichelHouellebecq). 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 ...

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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... societal sweep, slick marshalling of grand ideas and extreme sex, it fits neatly into an established category of French novels that have sold well in the English-speaking world, by authors such as MichelHouellebecq, 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 ...

‘It didn’t need to be done’

Tariq Ali: The Muslim Response

5 February 2015
... divided country: 57 per cent were ‘Je suis Charlie’s, but 42 per cent were opposed to hurting the feelings of minorities. Some of the latter might have been thinking of the blanket publicity for MichelHouellebecq 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 ...

Man-Eating Philosophers

Will Self: David Cronenberg

17 June 2015
Consumed 
by David Cronenberg.
Fourth Estate, 288 pp., £18.99, October 2014, 978 0 00 729915 7
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... thus: ‘Than, suggesting a thumb-sucking, asexual state of mind.’ I stress: this is not an ‘anti-style’ or the resistant Teflon-coated style of such Modernistes-nouveaux as Tom McCarthy and MichelHouellebecq; 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 ...

Short Cuts

Tariq Ali: The Charlie Hebdo Massacre

22 January 2015
... and has concentrated its mockery on Islam. French secularism today seems to encompass anything as long as it’s not Islamic. Denunciations of Islam have been relentless in France, with MichelHouellebecq’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 ...

At the Crime Scene

Adam Shatz: Robbe-Grillet’s Bad Thoughts

30 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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... to the British, and when France fell to the Nazis welcomed the occupiers as defenders of ‘order’. At the time of Vichy, Robbe-Grillet was in Paris at the National Institute of Agronomy (which MichelHouellebecq, 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 ...

Dégringolade

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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... fact or an idea straight. Could such a grotesque flourish in any other major Western culture today? If this is what lays claim to philosophy, literature is not far behind. Today’s leading novelist, MichelHouellebecq – 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 ...

Bastards

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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... brought to the most obviously futile tasks, such as pouring buckets of seawater into holes in the sand.’ The novel is not without flaws. A note of male self-pity creeps in here and there, as in MichelHouellebecq’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 ...

Stabbing the Olive

Tom McCarthy: Toussaint

11 February 2010
Running Away 
by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, translated by Matthew Smith.
Dalkey, 156 pp., $12.95, November 2009, 978 1 56478 567 1
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La Vérité sur Marie 
by Jean-Philippe Toussaint.
Minuit, 204 pp., €14.50, September 2009, 978 2 7073 2088 9
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... Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon et compagnie redrew the map of what fiction might offer and aspire to, what its ground rules should be – so much so that some have found their legacy stifling. MichelHouellebecq’s response has been one of adolescent rejection, or, to use the type of psychological language that the nouveaux romanciers so splendidly shun, denial: writing in Artforum in 2008, he ...

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