THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY by michel houellebecq

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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.

Michel Houellebecq interview

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the beautifully deformed soul of michel houellebecq has produced a new novel:  LA CARTE ET LE TERRITOIRE (a pun on a korzybski one liner). who knows how soon we’ll get the translation. but the paris review has a great interview in the latest issue. here’re some excerpts:

I read Baudelaire oddly early, when I was about thirteen, but Pascal was the shock of my life. I was fifteen. I was on a class trip to Germany, my first trip abroad, and strangely I had brought the Pensées of Pascal. I was terrified by this passage: “Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of the others; those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.” I think it affected me so deeply because I was raised by my grandparents. Suddenly I realized that they were going to die and probably soon. That’s when I discovered death.

&

You might get the impression that I have a mild contempt for storytelling, which is only somewhat true. For example, I really like Agatha Christie. She obeys the rules of the genre at first, but then occasionally she manages to do very personal things. In my case, I think I start from the opposite point. At first, I don’t obey, I don’t plot, but then from time to time, I say to myself, Come on, there’s got to be a story. I control myself. But I will never give up a beautiful fragment merely because it doesn’t fit in the story.

& i think i liked this part best:

INTERVIEWER

What did you most want to accomplish with the novel?

HOUELLEBECQ

What I really wanted was to have scenes that were, as you say in English, “heartbreaking.”

HOUELLEBECQ

The death of Michel’s girlfriend was very moving, I think. I really wanted to get those kinds of scene right above all.

INTERVIEWER

And why did you want to get those scenes right in particular?

HOUELLEBECQ

Because that’s what I like best in literature. For example, the last pages of The Brothers Karamazov: not only can I not read them without crying, I can’t even think of them without crying. That’s what I admire most in literature, its ability to make you weep. There are two compliments I really appreciate. “It made me weep,” and “I read it in one night. I couldn’t stop.”

&

INTERVIEWER

Do you have other requirements for writing?

HOUELLEBECQ

Flaubert said you had to have a permanent erection. I haven’t found that to be the case. I need to take a walk now and then. Otherwise, in terms of dietary requirements, coffee works, it’s true. It takes you through all the different stages of consciousness. You start out semicomatose. You write. You drink more coffee and your lucidity increases, and it’s in that in-between period, which can last for hours, that something interesting happens.

the rest at: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6040/the-art-of-fiction-no-206-michel-houellebecq

The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq

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I understand the desire to dismiss this book and this author–but he’s too good a novelist for it. Theo Tait has a great take on him in the London Review of Books here, which also has some juicy biography bits:
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n03/tait01_.html
He isn’t always as honest as he purports himself to be, is probably the worst thing you can say about him. His vileness is just there, condemnable, what else to say about it other than maybe it’s simultaneously repulsive and titillating. But the weight, development, momentum he can put into a book is very impressive.

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