Soumission

Soumission

Dans une France assez proche de la nôtre, un homme s’engage dans la carrière universitaire. Peu motivé par l’enseignement, il s’attend à une vie ennuyeuse mais calme, protégée des grands drames historiques. Cependant les forces en jeu dans le pays ont fissuré le système politique jusqu’à provoquer son effondrement. Cette implosion sans soubresauts, sans vraie révolution, s...

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Title:Soumission
Author:Michel Houellebecq
Rating:
ISBN:2081354802
Edition Language:French
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:320 pages

Soumission Reviews

  • Ian
    Jan 07, 2015

    If you only read one book about sex, religion and politics this year, make sure it's this one!

    It packs enormous punch into (far) less than 300 pages, raising the question yet again why novels need to be 562 or 1,376 pages long (and if they do on the basis of some subjective criterion, why they aren't written with such consistent verve, intelligence, wit and humour as

    For all the philosophy, this novel is paced like a mass market thriller or the screenplay

    If you only read one book about sex, religion and politics this year, make sure it's this one!

    It packs enormous punch into (far) less than 300 pages, raising the question yet again why novels need to be 562 or 1,376 pages long (and if they do on the basis of some subjective criterion, why they aren't written with such consistent verve, intelligence, wit and humour as

    For all the philosophy, this novel is paced like a mass market thriller or the screenplay for a prophetic, if not quite dystopian, film. Think an R-rated

    or

    meets

    or

    Actually, the plot alone would make a fantastic film. In the meantime, we must be content with an outstanding satirical novel of ideas.

    If you still want your novels to be encyclopaedic,

    is firmly in the Diderotian camp.

    This time, it's no mere helmet cam trip through Asian sex tourist destinations. Instead, it actively mourns the decline of the secular values of the Enlightenment, the French Republic and the

    The first person narrators of Houellebecq's fiction are as misanthropic as anything conjured up by Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

    However, the misanthropy is arguably a natural response to developments in modern consumer society, which has secreted us inside a spiritual vacuum. It seems that, literally, there is no other way for us to

    The narrator, François, is an unmarried mid-forties humanities professor. To describe him, you have to use words like: isolated, reclusive, withdrawn, unemotional, bored, abject, purposeless, unmotivated, hopeless, melancholy, uninvolved, resigned, disillusioned, deluded, disengaged, the very opposite of

    He is close to suicide, but he can't be bothered taking the final step. He figures that he has no more reason to kill himself than anybody else alive. On a date, he's just as likely to put on a Nick Drake album. He has no future to speak of. He just is. Until one day, when he won't be.

    Yet, François is the fictional vehicle, if not exactly an anti-hero, through which European civilisation realises its destiny.

    There's a massive vacuum at the centre of François' being, but nothing is capable of filling it. Nothing can please or pleasure him, not even promiscuous sex with his teenaged students (his spiritual quest ferrets out paramours who smell like teen spirit). His narcissism has led inevitably to depression:

    And it's of little practical use to him,

    The flesh might be flaccid, but the humour is Sterne.

    might wear the garb of satire. However, it still explores the causes of the vacuum as well as the forces that are intent on filling it, ostensibly for the purpose of satisfying our communal, personal and spiritual needs.

    A lot of the blame lies at the foot of sex (?), religion and politics. To this extent, the novel was bound to be controversial. However, Houellebecq proclaims:

    He just jumps right in, head first.

    In order to explore the dimensions of the controversy, the novel projects forward to the French election in 2022.

    It's a brilliant literary strategy that blends realism and fantasy.

    The population is so divided that no one political party or ideology can command a majority in its own right.

    Equally, the need to differentiate between like agendas blocks the scope for compromise and coalition (at least, in advance of the election). The Far Right National Front by itself can almost double (34%) the vote of the Socialist Party and the Muslim Brotherhood (or Fraternity)(22% each).

    Despite the popular apprehension about Islam, the Left decides to form a government with the Muslim leader Muhammed Ben Abbes in the role of President and a lily-livered Socialist in the role of Prime Minister.

    France – European Parliament Election 2014: Final Results

    This is no radical jihadist Islam. Ben Abbes is a charming, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, multicultural, moderate Muslim. He walks confidently on the international stage.

    He recognises that the values of the Republic have allowed him to achieve the highest position in the country. Yet he remains a consummate politician and manipulator of public and private opinion:

    Nevertheless, some aspects of the Islamic agenda are non-negotiable. What is fascinating is Houellebecq's insight into the pragmatic process by which many secular values are readily abandoned by the public, the bureaucracy, academia and the Left, in order to deny power to the Far Right.

    What is jettisoned includes the separation of religion and the state, academic freedom, a public education system beyond the age of 15, and anything resembling women's rights:

    François witnesses these changes from a privileged position in academia.

    Initially, he is dismissed like all other academics. Later he is offered a position at three times the level of remuneration, provided he will convert to Islam. Aware that he has frequently had sexual liaisons with his female students, the authorities offer to find him at least two wives, it being implicit that they could be as young as 13. It's almost enough to restore both cock and confidence (assuming they're not one and the same).

    The dynamic of the potential conversion provides the novel's main plot device. François is actually a renowned expert on Joris-Karl Huysmans, a Decadent writer who wrote

    and later converted from atheism to Catholicism at a similar stage of his life. Thus, the conversion is something for which François has been theoretically and mentally prepar(-ed/ing) for the whole of his adult life.

    Many French make the transition to the new Islamic society with little need for adjustment in their personal lives. However, the role of an academic allows Houellebecq to devise an intellectual analysis of Islam within a pre-existing philosophical tradition.

    Houellebecq has previously been prosecuted (unsuccessfully) for making comments that might incite hatred against Islam

    Initially, the response to the release of the book by those who hadn't read it was that it was Islamophobic and anti-French. However, the opposite is in fact the case. In a subsequent interview, he revealed that he has now read the Koran and it

    Thus, he purports to have no prejudice against Islam per se.

    The Muslim characters are highly articulate advocates for their faith who place it in the context of European civilisation, even if some of its tenets aren't compatible with the secular Republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity (which arguably have failed France, well, at least its spiritual needs).

    The fascinating thing about the book is that these arguments are given an intelligent and potentially appealing spin. You can imagine how society might one day get to the point where Muslims, despite comprising less than 20% of the population, become a social and political force that has a significant role in the mainstream (certainly one that can and must be embraced by the tired remnants of the Left in preference to the Far Right National Front).

    The Islamic view (according to François) is that secular values have resulted in a rampant individualism at the expense of genuine community, fraternity and brotherhood. Here's how they view secularism and its mission against God:

    Now that there was nothing but man, he was in a vacuum of his own creation.

    The goal of religion is to restore man to his proper place, beneath God.

    Ironically, the word brotherhood reflects the real significance of the changes that are implemented by the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The people who lose the most are women. They are by definition excluded from the brotherhood. Their role is confined to (polygamous) marriage, childbirth and parenthood. The most obvious change on the street is the sight of all women wearing conservative clothing and hijabs.

    From the point of view of an outsider to both religion and Islam, the major problem with the Islamic vision is its treatment of women.

    The explanation of the Islamic attitude towards women in the novel (assuming it is correctly portrayed) was enlightening, at least for me.

    I had forgotten that the word

    actually means

    and hence provides both the central metaphor and the name of the novel (as well as Theo van Gogh's short film).

    It's argued that man must submit to God/Allah/the Creator and his laws, but equally that woman must submit to man.

    Paradoxically, the role of women in the family is so paramount that they must be sheltered from the burden of work outside the family unit. It becomes the role of the male to financially provide for the family. It's almost as if Islam is doing women a favour by relieving them of a burden necessitated by life in a modern western economy. (You could even question whether a western economy, and therefore the way we currently work, is surplus to our real needs.)

    The question today is: how could this vision be imposed on a Western society?

    If 50% of the population are women, how could Islam be imposed peacefully on independent women as soon as 2022?

    The answer depends on the existing apparatus of democracy, hence the pivotal significance of the 2022 election.

    If 10% of the population were Muslim women, then it's possible that a coalition involving an Islamic party could garner as much as 55% of the vote, assuming the rest of the vote was split equally (45% for the Right, 45% for a coalition including the Muslim Brotherhood).

    It would be this simple to arrive at a mandate for legislating a change of the rights and obligations of women. Having become law, the state would bring the full weight of the law down on women who failed to comply, quite apart from any social sanctions that might be applied.

    The attitude towards women reveals an anomaly at the heart of the political relationship between Far Right

    and Islam.

    Nativists object to the presence of foreigners in their midst. However:

    Christianity has been fatally compromised by its lengthy cohabitation with the secular state of liberal individualism, which once it

    Apart from Huysmans, much of the philosophical conjecture sounds like de Tocqueville, Gibbon and Spengler. We're witnessing the decline of the West, the decline and fall of the Judaeo-Christian Empire, as a result of a virus caught from secular humanism.

    Or perhaps, given that European civilisation has already become secular humanist, it's more accurate to say that Europe's mortal wound has been self-inflicted. Houellebecq quotes Toynbee approvingly:

    In Muslim eyes, the value of Enlightenment reason has been exaggerated. It's irrelevant to most of us:

    While the narrative ceases within months of the election result and before we know for certain that François has converted, what is implicit in the above analysis of secular humanism is the possibility that Islam might use its coalition with the French Left to arrive at a broader, more pervasive and more socially conservative alliance with the Far Right National Front.

    Once this was achieved, secular humanism and liberalism could be extinguished altogether:

    The portrait of Ben Abbes is far more positive than this. However, this speculation is consistent with the views of some of his supporters and the analysis of François. It makes sense that religions, no matter how diverse, might come together to defeat atheism and its political manifestations, especially as only they might be able to fill the spiritual vacuum that seems to be the heart of the matter.

    Houellebecq has said something to this effect in a recent interview:

    While many see Houellebcq's fiction as misogynistic, it's conceivable that the only factor standing between today and this possible future is the resolve of women.

    Presumably, they will get little or no support from men like François. His example is evidence that the submission of the male can be acquired for the price of the right to polygamy.

    Pro-Islamic women protest outside the Great Mosque in Paris.

    Activist protests outside the Great Mosque in Paris.

    FEMEN disrupt Muslim conference in France:

    (Alexis de Tocqueville)

    (Ayatollah Khomeini)

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  • ♥ Ibrahim ♥
    Jan 09, 2015

    As a former Muslim, I see that Houellebecq is right on the money. I escaped Egypt my country in search of a land of freedom, and yet here oppression is chasing after me in the West. We love for Europe to be Europe. After all, that is why we left our mother countries in search of a more civilized world where human dignity is respected. By the way, please take a moment to read my story of conversion into Christianity and drop me a line and I will be your friend:

    As a former Muslim, I see that Houellebecq is right on the money. I escaped Egypt my country in search of a land of freedom, and yet here oppression is chasing after me in the West. We love for Europe to be Europe. After all, that is why we left our mother countries in search of a more civilized world where human dignity is respected. By the way, please take a moment to read my story of conversion into Christianity and drop me a line and I will be your friend:

  • Yves Gounin
    Jan 17, 2015

    Il est de bon ton de critiquer le dernier Houellebecq.

    Les fans des Particules élémentaires y voient une œuvre mineure, annonciatrice de l'inéluctable déclin du grand homme ; les contempteurs du prix Goncourt, un énième ressassement de sa veulerie beauf.

    Je ne crierai pas avec les loups. Pour trois raisons.

    1. Le style. Houellebecq écrit bien. Fichtrement bien. Avec l'air de ne pas y toucher. Et pourtant avec un perfectionnisme qui force d'autant plus l'admiration qu'il a l'humilité de ne pas se la

    Il est de bon ton de critiquer le dernier Houellebecq.

    Les fans des Particules élémentaires y voient une œuvre mineure, annonciatrice de l'inéluctable déclin du grand homme ; les contempteurs du prix Goncourt, un énième ressassement de sa veulerie beauf.

    Je ne crierai pas avec les loups. Pour trois raisons.

    1. Le style. Houellebecq écrit bien. Fichtrement bien. Avec l'air de ne pas y toucher. Et pourtant avec un perfectionnisme qui force d'autant plus l'admiration qu'il a l'humilité de ne pas se laisser voir. Loin de la prose prétentieuse d'Ono-dit-Biot ou de la simplicité rêche de Toussaint, Houellebecq nous offre un vrai plaisir de lecture. Son cynisme lui évite la morgue ou le didactisme. La profondeur de ses références - et je me fiche qu'elles aient été pompées sur Wikipédia dès lors qu'elles sont articulées avec intelligence - lui fait échapper à la superficialité.

    2. Le sujet. Houellebecq a le don de disséquer notre société. D'appuyer là où ça fait mal. Il raconte comment la victoire au second tour de l'élection présidentielle d'un Musulman modéré face à Marine Le Pen entraîne l'islamisation bon enfant de la France. Pour autant, Houellebecq n'est ni Nostradamus ni Éric Zemmour. Son roman est une fiction et peu importe qu'elle se réalise ou pas (reproche-t-on à Orwell que 1984 ne ressemble pas à son "1984" ?)

    3. Un titre. Comme on le sait déjà, le héros du roman est un Sorbonnard dépressif, spécialiste de J.-K. Huysmans, qui se convertit lentement aux valeurs du nouveau régime. Pourtant, quand on referme le livre, on est pris d'un doute : s'agit-il d'une prophétie amère et pessimiste ? ou au contraire d'un appel à l'insoumission comme le titre du livre, qu'il faudrait lire en creux, nous y exhorte ?

  • Manny
    Feb 07, 2015

    - Good evening, M. Houellebecq.

    -

    , M. Heinlein.

    , please, tell me your vision of the future.

    - Sure. So Western civilization, it's already--

    - --in a process of, ah,

    ?

    - You got it, buddy. As my old friend Cyril Kornbluth used to say, they breed faster than we do.

    - Muslims, monsieur?

    - People with low IQs. Same difference.

    -

    , my novel is respectful towards the Muslim wor

    - Good evening, M. Houellebecq.

    -

    , M. Heinlein.

    , please, tell me your vision of the future.

    - Sure. So Western civilization, it's already--

    - --in a process of, ah,

    ?

    - You got it, buddy. As my old friend Cyril Kornbluth used to say, they breed faster than we do.

    - Muslims, monsieur?

    - People with low IQs. Same difference.

    -

    , my novel is respectful towards the Muslim world.

    - But you do say they breed faster than us?

    - I do--

    - You ain't foolin' anyone, Michel. I rest my case.

    - We must, ah, agree to disagree.

    There will be increasing relaxation of the

    . Women will comport themselves like prostitutes, openly flaunting their faces, their legs, their breasts-

    - I think it's important to describe this process explicitly.

    -

    The reader must be shown how these

    behave.

    - At length.

    - This time, I see we agree, M. Heinlein! And then, there will be violence.

    - Limited nuclear war.

    - Disruption of the

    .

    - Details, details, Michel. We can sort that out later. But the important thing is, the West is finished.

    -

    - They will take over. It's inevitable.

    -

    - But there will be a few strong, survivor types. Rugged, well-prepared libertarians.

    -

    , professors of nineteenth century literature.

    - They will still be there. They will take younger women.

    -

    - Their daughters-in-law.

    - Again, M. Heinlein,

    We agree that there is only one thing to do?

    - Only one thing, Michel.

    - Convert to Islam.

    - Start a bridge club.

    - What?

    - What?

  • RK-ique
    Mar 18, 2015

    Wow. Great satire ... of French ... of European ... of Western values ... or lack thereof. So well done that the irony often slips by unnoticed. Who the hell are we?

    Soumission

    So what do you call a novel about Muslims taking over control of France? A novel of generally cynical politics? A novel where women appear mostly in sexually explicit scenes and have little to say except in defining themselves in relation to men (some exceptions)? A novel where 15 year old girls become acceptable as second

    Wow. Great satire ... of French ... of European ... of Western values ... or lack thereof. So well done that the irony often slips by unnoticed. Who the hell are we?

    Soumission

    So what do you call a novel about Muslims taking over control of France? A novel of generally cynical politics? A novel where women appear mostly in sexually explicit scenes and have little to say except in defining themselves in relation to men (some exceptions)? A novel where 15 year old girls become acceptable as second (or third) child wives? A novel in which the much touted French intellectual, defender of superior French culture appears to be willing to sell out in favour of the above? In this case, it is called “Soumission” – In the Islamic religion one submits to Allah. In Soumission, one submits to what one believes is necessary for a happy life – perhaps the same thing, but most likely cynical to a point. In any event, the Christian belief in Christ, belief in European values are found wanting, no longer relevant. So submission it is.

    -

    GR readers seem to be greatly divided on this novel. Not only are there sharp divisions on ratings, but even those who agree on ratings often seem to have read different books.

    Who should read this: Those who have a strong sense of irony, a willingness to be uncomfortable with themselves and a well-developed understanding of satire, for this is satire at its best, subtle but in your face at the same time. A certain knowledge of French culture and current French politics would also help but can be quickly acquired as needed on line. The English translation is scheduled to be out in October, 2015.

    -

    Michel Houellebecq has written a book about a disaffected, lonely, somewhat cynical French university professor at Sorbonne III, François. François has, many years back, written his doctoral thesis on the writings and life of Joris-Karl Huysmans, a fact that is important to the novel. Alcohol seems to play an exaggerated role in his life. The reader is subjected to his innermost thoughts on his life, his work, French politics and his sexual activities, both alone and with others. The story unfolds in the first person as the world evolves before Francois eyes.

    -

    So, it’s 2022 and France and the world have continued to unfold on the current track. Nothing much has changed as France enters its scheduled elections. And the Earth moves … and nothing happens. The gist of the story, which you can read in detail elsewhere (preferably in the book), is that France inadvertently elects a Muslim led government. (Plausible under Houellebecq’s view of his compatriots.) The newly elected Muslim Brotherhood party, in coalition with the Socialists, moves slowly and intelligently under Prime Minister Mohammed Ben Abbes, a likeable and competent man, to transform France, Europe and the entire Mediterranean region into a moderate Islamic culture. He is somewhat of a Constantine transforming Rome.

    -

    This change leaves François at somewhat of a loss – in particular, he has lost his teaching position, non-Muslims are not allowed to teach in publicly funded institutions, and he has lost his young Jewish girlfriend, who has moved with her family to Israel and “met someone else.” He wanders in this new culture, at a loss – but he was somewhat at a loss before the changes. Houellebecq makes it clear throughout the book that French, European culture is already bankrupt. Can we see the Muslim takeover as a new opportunity for a better future? I do not believe that Houellebecq wants to say that. Nor is he in disdain of the Muslim takeover. His disdain is for his fellow French citizens who have lost all values.

    -

    All is not lost for François however. The new administration comes calling. They need him. They need an expert in Huysmans on the faculty. Indeed, the new administration wants to support traditional French culture for all of its respectability. They have no intention of interfering with the tradition of La Belle France. It is François who hesitates. First, in trying to situate himself in the new France, he has gone searching for his old passion, Huysmans. He has tried to follow Huysmans into the world he withdrew into a hundred years earlier when he too found himself adrift in a changing France … and quickly flees back to France, questioning Huysmans commitment and sure of his own ability to suffer Christian commitment. He needs stimulation, not adulation. Mostly, he needs to satisfy his own sexual obsessions, normal male sexual obsessions. He has returned to Paris to try to fulfill his needs and to basically give up when the offer comes to return to the Sorbonne.

    -

    But as with all good deals, there is a condition. Of course François must become a Muslim and he cannot imagine doing so. His recent experience with his Christian beliefs has left him drained of the possibility of believing in any religion. And this is where Houellebecq is at his best. He introduces us to Robert Rediger, a man recently promoted to be in charge of the Sorbonne but moving quickly up the ladder into the leadership of the new Muslim government. He is charming, intelligent, extremely well read and Muslim. He converted to Islam as a young man and comes across as sincere. At the same time, Rediger is enjoying all of the benefits of his situation – a grand old mansion, an overflowing library, the best of wines and a new 15 year old wife to supplement his first, middle-aged, wife who quietly moves around in the background serving his every need.

    -

    Rediger explains his own conversion many years before, feeling unsatisfied with the values of the world in which he lived (Belgium). « Cette Europe qui était le sommet de la civilisation de la monde s ‘est bel et bien suicidée, en l’espace de quelques décennies ». European culture was collapsing and his favourite bar in Brussels in the Hotel Metropole, noted for its Art Nouveau style was closing. In contrast, he saw Islam as providing stability of tradition, unchanging in its values in its submission to Allah. As the Metropole closed, he became a Muslim, a sincere Muslim. He tells his story to François and then sets out to lay out why Islam has become the core of his life: the concept of submission – of woman to man (as in the novel “The Story of O”). François has been given a lot to think about. Rediger has also given him a small book he has written on Islam – it has sold millions. He reads the book and on their next encounter poses some questions.

    -

    Questions on bigamy. His main concern, as a professor, is that he does not consider himself to be a dominant male. Rediger clarifies that, no, university professors are by nature dominant males. But then there is the real problem of … how does a man chose the right woman? Here too Islam has developed the perfect solution: les marieuses – women whose role it is to approach young women’s families on behalf of men. Simply put, the process of finding a spouse, or spouses, is without stress. Islam has taken care of that. Worry-free courting.

    -

    Houellebecq has been accused of being anti-Islamic, but I think not. Yes it is Islam that takes over France, but it is not portrayed as evil or oppressive. It simply is. Definitely, Houellebecq portrays it as something much more benign than the Christian takeover of the Roman empire some 1 600 years ago. Pagans would have gladly suffered such a fate as French citizens face here – losing your job with a full pension?

    -

    No, not the Muslims, nor women are Houellebecq’s target. It is his fellow French intellectual, the complacent unthinking, European who has abandoned all semblance of cultural tradition; who cannot relate to his/her own roots; who cannot form real human relationships that he attacks. Islam isn’t a bad thing. It is portrayed as being a more energetic, more committed other which replaces the sloth of Europe. A satirical warning that if values matter, the need to be upheld. If not, then accept what comes.

    -

    One thing should be noted by those of us in the Americas. We a barely thought of here. I would guess that Houellebecq considers that we already have nothing to lose. We are already, long have been, little more than barbarians. This is a novel about values and I suspect Houellebecq is in complete distain of what we have and have never had. His concern is for what France has lost and continues to lose.

  • Paul Martin
    Sep 05, 2015

    This seems to be the kind of book that divides critics into the two equally useless camps:

    1)

    2)

    My view is that it's neither.

    All Houllebecq is saying is that a completely secular society is like a vacuum. Given the opportunity, it will let itself be filled. If you don't want to risk it being filled with something you don't like, then you shouldn't have emptied it complete

    This seems to be the kind of book that divides critics into the two equally useless camps:

    1)

    2)

    My view is that it's neither.

    All Houllebecq is saying is that a completely secular society is like a vacuum. Given the opportunity, it will let itself be filled. If you don't want to risk it being filled with something you don't like, then you shouldn't have emptied it completely in the first place.

    With this in mind, Houellebecq goes on to show how the polarization in French politics could pave the way for a Muslim party to get into power, and what it could mean for the French population.

    Returning to the question in the title - would that be a bad thing? Well, it turns out, not necessarily. From a perspective of power, comfort and freedom, at least not for

    half the population. Or at least the heterosexual and educated part of it.

    I don't see this novel as an attack on Islam. I am no expert on religion, but most of what he says about it seems to be accurate. If anything, he is merely pointing out that Islam as a religion is much more capable of social change due to it's hereditary element and ability to bind large amounts of people to it's cause - whether it's for "good" or "bad". The sense of cultural loss and inability to feel any sort of connection to your own roots which dominates the French secular society in

    (and perhaps also real life) appears as a no less bleak situation than what Islam offers, namely a life with meaning and a clear direction. The downside?

    Just some minor details concerning women's rights

    Houellebecq is criticizing everyone and no one, really. He isn't pointing fingers of laying blame. He is merely pointing out that a secular society is fragile, very fragile, and that it to a certain extent has to be combined with a set of cultural values if it is to remain in place. Otherwise, it will slowly erode under the pressure of other ways of life, which in this case just happens to be Islam. For better or worse? Better for some and worse for others, like every other society in the history of mankind. Houellebecq doesn't presume to have the answer - he is simply saying that it will be different, and that it might very well happen.

  • Hadrian
    Nov 17, 2015

    This is a case of a novel of ideas with the best (or worst) possible timing. The very day it was published in French was the day of the Charlie Hebdo shootings; a few short weeks after the English translation came out, Paris was attacked again.

    Our protagonist, whose name I've already forgotten, is a professor of 19th century literature and an gormless slob who eats microwave food and hires prostitutes to lick his balls. He, like many Houellebecq protagonists, moves through life with a depressed

    This is a case of a novel of ideas with the best (or worst) possible timing. The very day it was published in French was the day of the Charlie Hebdo shootings; a few short weeks after the English translation came out, Paris was attacked again.

    Our protagonist, whose name I've already forgotten, is a professor of 19th century literature and an gormless slob who eats microwave food and hires prostitutes to lick his balls. He, like many Houellebecq protagonists, moves through life with a depressed indifference. That is, until the 2022 elections and the fictitious Muslim Brotherhood Party edges out the

    .

    He is the 'main character', but his life is shaped by Muhammad Ben Abbes, who is the Nietzschean 'Übermensch' to our protagonists' 'Last Man'. He is charismatic, sharply intelligent, and the sort of man who makes other men surrender to him willingly. In this curious way, he is the strong leadership which the far right craves, with the exception that he leads a Muslim revitalization of Europe instead of a Christian one. Unemployment and crime plummet, political squabbles perish, Europe rises to challenge and equal the United States, and the nation is a unified, organic whole. With the exception of the new underclass, women. But our protagonist doesn't really care about them.

    Houellebecq's dystopia is apparently not the one where the fictitious Muslim Brotherhood takes over; it's the one with an anemic market liberalism which makes any takeover possible, or preferable. You

    get the sense that Houellebecq would approve of any new regime (even if you consider the Margaret Atwood-esque fate of all the women). His deep pessimism parallels his professional subject, Huysmans - a move from decadent overindulgence to the comfort of belief. Whether that belief is sincerely held is another matter.

    Houllebecq's study does not cover sharia law or fundamentalism or any of the caricatures of Muslims which haunt the media or political debate. It is a study of

    with a new regime. This is the sort of person who would willingly abandon their old France, leaving behind 'nothing to mourn' for the prospect of material gain. This is apparently the sort of person who would favor any extremism, any man who would covet arranged marriages and obedient slave-wives because any social movement for women is threatening. They are not so poor that they'd be on the edge of survival, but just well off enough to have time to be frustrated and miserable.

    An interesting idea, but I wonder if people will discuss it for all the wrong reasons.

  • Fionnuala
    Jan 26, 2016

    I set out to read this book expecting to be provoked because in my experience Houellebecq is always hell-bent on provoking somebody, and very often that 'somebody' is of the opposite sex. I wasn’t disappointed this time; his narrator managed to provoke me right at the beginning, and regularly from then on, so I decided that the only way to review this book was with a full set of teeth on show!

    But relax, my teeth are not ‘bared’, just revealed in a wide smile because the only way to take the twe

    I set out to read this book expecting to be provoked because in my experience Houellebecq is always hell-bent on provoking somebody, and very often that 'somebody' is of the opposite sex. I wasn’t disappointed this time; his narrator managed to provoke me right at the beginning, and regularly from then on, so I decided that the only way to review this book was with a full set of teeth on show!

    But relax, my teeth are not ‘bared’, just revealed in a wide smile because the only way to take the twenty-first century part of this book is with a giant dose of humour. And there are some deliberately funny lines (at least I hoped they were deliberate). In fact, I enjoyed the book much more than I thought I would and it also lead me to read a book by a nineteenth century author, J-K Huysmans, a book I’ve owned for a while but hadn’t yet got around to reading. I actually paused the Houellebecq book half-way through in order to read

    from beginning to end, and I began to better appreciate the parallels between the two narrators' lives and experiences, although it isn’t at all essential for readers to read the Huysmans book since Houellebecq threads plenty of material about Huysmans' life and times into his twenty-first century story. To a certain extent, I felt Houelllebecq's narrator's engagement with Huysmans and other writers of the late-nineteenth century might have suited me better in a book with less of a political theme but I can see why he combined the Huysmans part with his contemporary tale as there are some apt comparisons between the two. In any case, taking a break from the modern-day story to visit the nineteenth century suited me very well and I was grateful to Houellebecq for the nudge to finally open

    (edit: according to the notes at the back of

    in which Huysmans speaks of a character called Jean Folantin from one of his earlier books,

    , I see that Folantin, more than the protagonist in

    , is the character who more closely resembles Houellebecq's narrator. They are both slightly hypochondriac single men, despondent at work, obliged to eat poor food alone, and who decide eventually to 'go with the flow' (à vau-l'eau) when a new way of life presents itself).

    When his narrator is not contemplating the nineteenth century, Houellebecq allows him to zone in on various aspects of modern French life: the political system, the university system, and especially the politics within the university system. I enjoyed all that satire very much. However, I generally prefer satire to be delivered with a little more nuance than I found here. Houellebecq dropped so many over-obvious hints about the eventual outcome of his 2022 scenario that even though he held off from describing that outcome until the very last pages (underlining the huge importance he gave to the story elements), we knew almost from the beginning exactly how it would end. So not only a laboured plot but the labouring done at the expense of the satire, I felt.

    There were also some very long turns by characters who appeared in the narrative just to make certain ideological points: the secret service agent, Alain Tanneur, for example, who is introduced twice just to make the case for one side of the book's principal argument; and the president of the Sorbonne university, Robert Rediger, who is twice brought on just to debate the other side of the argument - though I enjoyed the choice of name in Rediger’s case: the verb ‘rediger’ means ‘to write’ or ‘to write out formally’ and it is Rediger who gets to write out the guidelines for living (comfortably) in a French Muslim state; the satire in this part is quite well done but not taken as far as it might have been.

    That was my main problem with this book, the scenario is really too mild in the end. I think Houellebecq had several great ideas here and might have written something more powerful. But to do that, he’d have had to ditch his narrator at the abandoned motorway stop in the first half of this story.

    There! I ‘bared’ my teeth in spite of my good intentions…

  • Jibran
    Oct 19, 2016

    It seems as though Houellebecq wrote the novel to stir up not debate but controversy. I'm afraid to say that charging a small segment of French population with so much power and influence is way too out of proportion. French Muslims have no power (as a bloc), have no media representation (they own nothing), have no think tanks or lobbies to influence decision-making in France or elsewhere in Europe.

    Sure, they are the largest religious minority, but the numbers are small in the total population.

    It seems as though Houellebecq wrote the novel to stir up not debate but controversy. I'm afraid to say that charging a small segment of French population with so much power and influence is way too out of proportion. French Muslims have no power (as a bloc), have no media representation (they own nothing), have no think tanks or lobbies to influence decision-making in France or elsewhere in Europe.

    Sure, they are the largest religious minority, but the numbers are small in the total population. The total percentage has not crossed into double digits anywhere in Europe, though if you were to listen to the right wing media, you'd probably think that about 30% to 40% of French, British, German, Dutch, Austrian etc populations now consist of Muslims and, lo and behold, it will hardly be another decade before the dark forces of the Crescent become a majority and, theoretically, come to power.

    This whole debate, this loud and endless lament, says more about the state of Western society than it addresses problems among minority faith communities or immigration. Can the West hold on to its post-WWII romance of liberalism / equality / secularism / multiculturalism? (LESM) This is the question Houellebecq is attempting to answer but he's chosen to unload the failures of Europe (in this case France) on the shoulders of a powerless community whose most effective means of showing power is to blow up buildings or truck down people walking down the street, leaving the rest of their people to give out embarrassed defenses.

    Just imagine the despair.

    Global Jihadist violence and recent high profile incidents of terrorism in Europe are causing palpitations that an extremist takeover, somehow or the other, is imminent. But no, what's happening in Iraq and Syria (in part the responsibility of the same Western regimes who make the most noise about Islamist terrorism) is not going to happen in France or anywhere in the West. So please sleep well. As for Houellebecq, a democratic coming to power of conservative Muslims who then go on to turn France into a theo-democracy is not only far-fetched but simply ludicrous.

    So is this satire? A literary experiment to see what sort of France would there be if a conservative Muslim party came to power and changed the rules? If so, I'm not very amused. To think-up a scenario where a small minority of European Muslims would come into power through the backdoor and force everyone - the liberals, the atheists, the

    - into "submission" is as questionable as, say, a writer engaging in a fantasy of the Jewish conspiracy to take over the entire world.

    October '16

  • Kyriakos Sorokkou
    Jan 10, 2017

    Μια μακάβρια σύμπτωση καλύπτει αυτό το βιβλίο.

    Εκδόθηκε στις 7 Ιανουαρίου 2015 και την ίδια μέρα το σατιρικό περιοδικό Charlie Hebdo έκδωσε το τεύχος με την καρικατούρα του Ουελμπέκ ως μάγου να λέει ότι το 2022 θα γιορτάζει το Ραμαζάνι.

    Την ίδια επίσης μέρα τα γραφεία της Charlie Hebdo δέκτηκαν επίθεση με αποτέλεσμα να πεθάνουν 12 άνθρωποι.

    Τον Οκτώβρη του 2015 βγήκε και η ελληνική έκδοση, και λίγες εβδομάδες μετά έγιναν οι πολύνεκρες επιθέσεις στο Παρισι (Σταντ ντε Φρανς, Μπατακλάν κλπ)

    Ο Ουελμπέκ

    Μια μακάβρια σύμπτωση καλύπτει αυτό το βιβλίο.

    Εκδόθηκε στις 7 Ιανουαρίου 2015 και την ίδια μέρα το σατιρικό περιοδικό Charlie Hebdo έκδωσε το τεύχος με την καρικατούρα του Ουελμπέκ ως μάγου να λέει ότι το 2022 θα γιορτάζει το Ραμαζάνι.

    Την ίδια επίσης μέρα τα γραφεία της Charlie Hebdo δέκτηκαν επίθεση με αποτέλεσμα να πεθάνουν 12 άνθρωποι.

    Τον Οκτώβρη του 2015 βγήκε και η ελληνική έκδοση, και λίγες εβδομάδες μετά έγιναν οι πολύνεκρες επιθέσεις στο Παρισι (Σταντ ντε Φρανς, Μπατακλάν κλπ)

    Ο Ουελμπέκ έγραψε ένα βιβλίο που περιέχει εξτρεμιστικές πράξεις στο Παρίσι, το οποίο μόλις εκδίδεται εξτρεμιστικές πράξεις λαμβάνουν χώρα στο Παρίσι. Ζωή και τέχνη γίνονται ένα.

    Σατανικές συμπτώσεις ή μήπως ο Ουελμπέκ είναι τόσο προφητικά έξυπνος που ξέρει πότε κάτι θα πουλήσει / προκαλέσει;

    Το βιβλίο είναι σχετικά απλό. Σε μια Γαλλία του κοντινού μέλλοντος (2022) διεξάγονται εκλογές με την ακροδεξιά της Λεπέν στο προβάδισμα. Ακριβώς πίσω είναι η μουσουλμανική αδελφότητα η οποία με τη βοήθεια του 3ου κόμματος βγαίνει στην εξουσία.

    Τώρα όλη η Γαλλία είναι υπό μουσουλμανικό καθεστώς.

    Τέλος πάντων, αυτό και άλλα πολλά ερωτήματα αναδύθηκαν από μέσα μου καθώς διάβαζα το βιβλίο.

    Ο πρωταγωνιστής του βιβλίου είναι ένας καθηγητής στη Σορβόνη με ειδικότητα στον Ουισμάνς. Ασυμπάθιστος χαραχτήρας. Μισογύνης, μισάνθρωπος, και όλα τα εις μισό-.

    Για να παραμείνει καθηγητής στο πανεπιστήμιο πρέπει να ασπαστεί το Ισλάμ.

    Όλο το βιβλίο είναι μια εναλλαγή μεταξύ Ουισμάνς, πολιτική, πήδουλους, θρησκεία - Ουισμάνς, πολιτική, πήδουλους, θρησκεία. Και όλα σε μεγάλη λεπτομέρεια. Ένα βιβλίο όπου παρελαύνουν πολιτικοί της Γαλλίας (Ολάντ, Σαρκοζί, Λεπέν) κυρίως στο πρώτο μισό στη διάρκεια της προεκλογικής περιόδου.

    Το απόλαυσα ως βιβλίο αλλά δεν με έπεισε. Μπορεί το μουσουλμανικό κόμμα να ήταν σαφώς καλύτερο από το να κέρδιζε το Front National της φασίστως Λεπέν αλλά το ότι μέσα σε 6 μήνες όλη η Γαλλία μπήκε σε νόμο σαρία (γυναίκες καλυμμένες, καθηγητές μουσουλμάνοι, γάμοι με προξενιά κλπ) αδιαμαρτήρητα έμοιαζε κάπως ψεύτικο και βεβιασμένο το οποίο, καταλαβαίνω, ήταν ένας τρόπος για να κυλίσει η ιστορία.

    Παρόλο που από Γαλλική Λογοτεχνία κάνω μεσάνυχτα. (είμαι βλέπετε της αντίπερα όχθης

    ) δεν με κούρασαν οι αμέτρητες παραπομπές στη Γαλλική Λογοτεχνία του 19ου αιώνα (Ουισμάνς, Πεγκύ (Για αρκετές σελίδες διάβαζα Π

    γκυ) Ντομινίκ Ορί, Φλωμπέρ κλπ)

    Απ' ότι φαίνεται όμως θα συνεχίσω με Ουελμπέκ στο μέλλον, ίσως με το δοκίμιο για τον μαέστρο του τρόμου αλλά απίστευτα ρατσιστή Λαβκραφτ του οποίου οι απόψεις σίγουρα θα βρίσκουν σύμφωνη τη Λεπέν.

    7/10