Reviews of two controversial books by M. Houellebecq

Discussion in 'Bibliophile's Corner' started by naqshbandijamaati, May 21, 2006.

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  1. citizen Sahib(a)!

    I agree with you--his observations are more than accurate though: they are razor sharp and prescient. That is why he is important. And the obsession with
    sex and violence also reflects the two main twin obsessions present today in our
  2. citizen

    citizen New Member

    Read both Platform and Atomised a few years ago so a bit hazy on the details. Once you get over his Islamophobic attitude and the mindless sex and violence in the books you realise that they are not actually bad books. His observations about modern Western societies especially are sometimes very accurate.
  3. [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=+1]Houllebecq's "Atomised": Essential reading.[/SIZE][/FONT]
    I started reading this book almost a year ago and got through the first 2/3 very quickly; then something strange happened: I was so depressed by the contents of it, the constant pointless sex, the graphic descriptions, the callousness and emptiness of the characters and the emptiness of their shallow lives that--despite knowing that all this was deliberate by Houllebecq, that it was his razor-sharp deconstruction and commentary on the modern Western lifestyle--I was just not able to continue, until two days ago, when, with nothing else to do, I picked it up off my bookshelf and started from where I'd left off. The hiatus worked wonders and I whizzed through the remainder of the book, enthralled and riveted, although at times disgusted too, and full of admiration.

    This is a difficult book but a necessary one and, I have no hesitation in now saying, a brilliant one. The book is full of some extraordinary ideas and incisive commentary on humanity in the late 20th century, especially that of European society. The ending--it goes into (very plausible) hard science fiction territory--the erudition of the writer, his eye for detail, and his twin obsessions of sex and violence, and his ability to be brave enough to write what he sees without any thought for political correctness or any of the other sops of the liberal left, is breathtaking and--despite the ocassional Islamophobia, nay contempt he portrays for organised religion but Islam in particular, his racism, makes this book essential reading especially after the tragic events of 9/11 and those in London on 7/7 and after. This book has more important and accurate things to say about the human condition of contemporary European man than any number of the dry academic essays on sociology and anthroplogy you can care to read. Understand Houllebecq and you understand what people nowadays really care about and think. I don't think I'd like the man but to ignore him and what he is saying would be to do so at our own peril. I haven't read a book full of such big and radical ideas for a long time.

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][SIZE=+1] Platform-review and comments on Houellebecq's Islamophobia[/SIZE][/FONT]
    Well, well, I read Platform right through in a day and a bit and it was a good book; its controversy and supposed Islamophobia had bought it some notoriety which, I have to say, is mostly undeserved. As a novel, I don't think it was as good as Atomised--the big ideas were mostly absent in this one. Yes, he did make some astute observations on Western sexuality but that was also present in Atomised. The story, as far as it went, I felt was quite slight: Michel (he always seems to use his own name as that of his main protagonist) goes on a package holiday to Thailand where he meets Valerie. After the holiday they start a passionate affair. Although he doesn't say it in the book, it is obvious that he is in love with her (I don't think Houellebecq believes in Love). They have lots and lots of sex. In public, in S&M bars, they participate in orgies. She is a high flying executive in a large tour operator organisation and then gets an even more high flying job in a global chain of hotels. He is a civil servant. The book has a lot of canny observations on the holiday industry. Obviously, he researches his books very well although it is obvious his work is largely autobiographical too. I learnt a lot about how hotel chains and holiday resorts operate. Well, anyway, about 3/4 of the way through the book, Michel speaks to Valerie's boss (who is in a loveless marriage: his wife cheats on him in S&M bars; he has a brief affair with their 15 year old au pair) about the economic advantages of setting up a sex tourism chain of hotels. The idea is a huge hit.

    Then disaster strikes. In one such sex hotel in Thailand, Islamic terrorists strike, killing hundreds, including Valerie, who is gunned down in front of Michel. Amazingly, he survives, although is in obvious shock and gets hospitalised for a while. When he leaves hospital he decides to stay permanently in Thailand where he writes this book. There are strong implications that he commits suicide although this is not stated explicitly.

    It is after these events that his Islamophobia really kicks in. He makes comments about feeling happy when he hears that Palestinian children, women and men have been killed by Israelis. This hate and bitterness though is understandable in the context of the story. He also makes a few minor Arab characters, tourists, say disparaging things about Islam too: the typical cliches, how it has contributed nothing much to modern civilisation, how it was spread by the sword. Nothing worth getting worked up about to be honest and I can see why Houellebecq was cleared of inciting racism. Inside his Islamophobic comments he does make veracious observations about the reality of Muslims in this day and age. He notes how most French Muslims do not practise much and how most of the Arab girls are as French as the rest of society; he particularly notes how they are usually no longer virgins when they get married! He fantasises about 'Muslim vaginas'. He also talks about the intellectual stagnation of Muslim countries implicitly in recent centuries and that is something which cannot be denied either.

    So, these are my thoughts. No doubt, he has the typical views of some uninformed bigots about Islam but a lot of what he says, although not pleasant to read, is mostly based on fact, especially his remarks about Muslim societies today. Something he should do, is read a good book about Islamic history though!

    A satisfactory book, well-written and engaging but not as good as his previous one. 3.5/5.

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