THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY by michel houellebecq


houellebecq is a supreme market analyst, not shying away from drawing a trendline even if it’s more based on cynicism than data:

They had several happy weeks. It was not, it couldn’t be, the exacerbated, feverish happiness of young people, and it was no longer a question for them in the course of a weekend to get plastered or totally shit-faced; it was already — but they were still young enough to laugh about it — the preparation for that epicurean, peaceful, refined but unsnobbish happiness that Western society offered the representatives of its middle-to-upper classes in middle age. They got used to the theatrical tone adopted by waiters in high-star establishments as they announced the composition of the amuse-bouches and other appetizers; and also that elastic and declamatory way in which they exclaimed: “Excellente continuation, messieurs, dames!” each time they brought the next course (58).”

inhaled it and enjoyed it thoroughly, but not his best (though maybe his most consciously ambitious). somehow it didn’t appear to have the energy to finish what it started. the houellebecq character seemed to exist simply to settle scores and mock his own public image — but after those tasks were (often, it’s true, hilariously) done there ironically was a painful lack of development for this rather essential, important character. and the (d)evolution into police procedural i think was in some ways, even if premeditated and even if enjoyable, shark jumping.

there are even moments of unfortunate false notes and unexpected sentimentality, for example when the main character tries to find meaning in his life so waxes nostalgic for the one that got away:

The word passion suddenly crossed Jed’s mind, and all of a sudden he found himself ten years previously, during his last weekend with Olga… Night was falling, and the temperature ideally mild. Olga seemed deep in contemplation of her pressed lobster. She had said nothing for at least a minute when she lifted her head, looked him straight in the eyes, and asked: “Do you know why you’re attractive to women?… It’s very simple: it’s because you have an intense look in your eyes. A passionate look… If they can read in the eyes of a man an energy, a passion, then they find him attractive” (106-7).

[this is houellebecq writing?!]

and/but there’s plenty to love…  here’s a favorite stand-alone bit. typical in its wry cultural observation, it ends with a quietly explosive insight:

The Sushi Warehouse in Roissy 2E offered an exceptional range of Norwegian mineral waters. Jed opted for the Husqvarna, a water from the center of Norway, which sparkled discreetly. It was extremely pure — although, in reality, no more than the others. All these mineral waters distinguished themselves only by the sparkling, a slightly different texture in the mouth; none of them were salty or ferruginous; the basic point of Norwegian mineral waters seemed to be moderation. Subtle hedonists, these Norwegians, thought Jed as he bought his Husqvarna; it was pleasant, he thought again, that so many different forms of purity could exist (80).


bits from the paris review interview here.

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