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Michel Houellebecq

Author of our Times


John McCann

Michel Houellebecq is a French author whose profile in the English-speaking world is unusually high. He is an author who has put the humour back into the Absurd, without losing any of the awareness of the bleakness of the human condition. Undoubtedly one of the most trenchant satirists of our time, he deflates the projected utopias that we imagine protect us from the ills that beset us. More than many other novelists, his work is a reflection of the social and economic reality of life in a post-industrial society. Houellebecq shows a world of violence and tension, a world where people find it hard to be at ease, so that life becomes a process of disease. This book foregrounds Houellebecq’s scrutiny of our various attempts to confront and transcend the fundamental reality of the human condition, in particular the horror of death.


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Chapter 5 La Possibilité d’une île : Life is Real 171


Chapter 5 La Possibilité d’une île : Life is Real Writing in the Saturday edition of the Guardian on 29 October 2005, Michael Worton was less than impressed by the English translation of La Possibilité d’une île: The real flaw at the centre of this novel is that Houellebecq can’t think or talk interestingly about love, the novel’s main concern. We are treated to a series of Scrooge-ish maxims, such as ‘Living together alone is hell between consenting adults’. Dogs are ‘machines for loving’, but the novel articulates a stunted and confused view of love, where love between a man and a woman is equated with love for a pet. He added: The best way to read Possibility is quickly, without pondering its cod philosophy and portentous metaphysical pronouncements, which take the anatomisation of banality to a paroxysm of the baroque. There is little point in thinking about what Houellebecq says or following up his references, since their irrelevance is the point. Tim Adams writing in the Observer on 30 October was only slightly less dismissive: There could be some pathos and reach in this scenario and in the ways it plays itself out, but Houellebecq’s range, which always veers quickly and self-consciously from disgust to sentimentality, does not want to allow for simple humanity; it would be too damaging to his vision. In its absence, you are left with a repeti- tive, clever shell of a world, a calculated atmosphere of pornography, gratuitous and starkly lit, which, though it is...

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