Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Submission" by Michel Houellebecq

ISBN: 978-0-374-27157-2 FSG

"Submission" by Michel Houellebecq (FSG)

A beautiful romp through France in the 21st century.   No, not really.   On the other hand, Michel Houellebecq's new novel "Submission" is a witty commentary on the issues of French/European culture, religious politics and of course the main subject of this novel, the great French author of the 19th century J-K. Huysmans.    The best part of the novel is when the main character who is a literary professor, discusses Huysmans.    

My favorite type of novel is one where the author writes about ideas, and "Submission" is very much about ideas.   Popular media would label this book as being Islamophobic, but I think Houellebecq is really criticizing the modern world, and not praising anyone.   In a way, he reminds me of Swift, in that he looks at culture from a distance, and pokes holes into it.  

 I admire Houellebecq as a craftsman writer.  He knows how to tell a tale, and is often funny.   I enjoy reading him, and I enjoy being in his company on the written page.   But beyond that, I think he is quite hollow.  There is something vapid about his presence.  Serge Gainsbourg had bite, but Houellebecq to me, is a distant ghost of such men of past generations.  Still, I enjoy the ride that he takes me through his writing.  And to be honest, I would rather that this book just focus on Huysmans.  Politics is bullshit. 

The beauty of reading a Houellebecq book is that you feel the lecturer at the Sorbonne is Houellebecq.  In fact, he's the biggest character in the whole book, of course.  It is like reading a Woody Allen short story, where you can hear and actually feel the Woody presence.  There is nothing wrong with that, in fact, it's great.  So readers of Houellebecq's work wants to experience the Houellebecq experience.  In many ways, he's a bigger presence in one's life.  He drinks, he smokes, he fucks.... what is there not to like about him?  On the other hand, like life itself, it's an illusion of sorts.  It really depends if one follows the illusion of the writer as a great thinker.   Houellebecq to me, is a great entertainer.  

- Tosh Berman

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