Book 906 Michel Houellebecq – Whatever

Since this is Houellebecq’s first novel, I guess that this will be the last novel written by him that I’ll be reviewing.  But to be honest it’s not too different than the other ones that I’ve read.

The book is about a man who works in a computer firm and writes short philosophical stories on the side. Like most characters in a Houellebecq novel, he notices the mundane aspects of his life and his colleagues.

Eventually he goes on a tour of France in order to teach other people the computer programs his company sells. Again the narrator observes the stupidity and the sheer banality of  their lives and his. There’s even a part when he tells his frustrated workmate that he should kill the girls who rejected him.

By the end of the novel the narrator goes insane but still does not change his worldview.

Whatever is a typical French novel through and through. Depressing, negative and reeking of existentialism. but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like it. Probably I’d appreciate it more when I was 16 but I totally knew what Houellebecq was on about.

I’m wondering why The French are so good at writing these sort novels?  Can anyone answer?

Book 939 Michel Houellebecq – Atomised

I first came across Atomised back in 2003 when I was working in the bookstore. I have to admit that the cover did catch my eye (don’t you think she looks a bit like Kristen Dunst? ) but I was always keeping the book stored mind until the right moment.

One day a customer rushed in and asked if we had The Elementary Particles (it’s the U.S. title)  by an author called Michel Houellebecq. Just before I could answer the customer grabbed Atomised and told me that the author is at the centre of a controversy due to his writings of other cultures.  Now at that time the word controversy made me perk up so I instantly bought the second copy of Atomised and read it in a couple of days.

Bruno and Michel are half brothers born to a bohemian mother, but despite their upbringing they are two completely different persons. Michel is an introvert and almost afraid of sex. He is, though a brilliant molecular biologist. Bruno, on the other hand is a sex maniac and indulges in every perverse action possible. In curious way, despite his Lothario lifestyle he is a loser.  He does not really have a decent relationship with his half sibling.

Saying that these two brothers are like a split atom. When they are separated they have the potential to be powerful but it is inert but when they join they are an almighty force and it is when Bruno finally establishes contact with Michel that life turns out for the better as both brothers manage to bring the best out of each other and help sort out their lives. There is also a futuristic sub plot here but that’s not really given that much importance.

On the whole Atomised is a flawed but interesting novel. When it works the passages are simply brilliant, especially when the brothers get together but unfortunately there are dull moments and I felt that the sex ridden pages were written for shock value. There’s even a bit of a tackiness among the bleak exterior of the novel. I won’t say I loved it but I will not say that I disliked it either.

For a Houellebecq beginner I suggest that his third novel Platform should be tackled first. it is a more consistent and satisfying read.

Book 966 Michel Houellebecq – Platform

Yes dear readers I had to cart this book around with me and the amount of stares and a raised eyebrows were too numerous to mention.  To be honest I guess if I saw a guy carrying this book with in public places I guess I would peep at the cover as well.

Anyway this is not my first foray into the pervy world of Houellebecq. A couple of years ago I bought Atomised and liked it. Not loved it, but it helped be get through the weekend and now I’m tackling his third novel, Platform.

Michel has just lost his father to a murderer, despite the fact that he’s nonchalant about he decides to escape the banality of his life and go on a package tour to Thailand. Fed up with the majority of the people in his tour group, Michel starts to experiment with Thai prostitutes and enjoys it.

Fortunately Michel manages to bond with one person in on this tour and that’s Valarie and eventually the two embark on a highly physical relationship. It also turns out, when they return, that Valarie is put in charge of an ailing package holiday firm. Michel suggest that they focus on sex tourism and it works.

That is until the couple and a few others return to Thailand and find out that sex tourism is upsetting certain groups and it leads to dire consequences. It is then Michel discovers the difference between true love and erotic love. By then it is too late and he spends the rest of his life in a sort of limb-like state.

Houellebecq is an ugly writer. here is not one shred of beauty in what he does. His version of humanity is bleak, cruel with the occasional burst of happiness, in this respect I would say that he is the successor of Albert Camus as the existentialist worldview is shared by both authors.

However I do note that those people of a sensitive nature will not like this book at all, not because of the plentiful sex scenes but because of the hatred for certain races that Michel harbours. Even I felt uncomfortable reading certain paragraphs but I keep in mind that had Camus lived in this decade he would have probably written the same thing and that Houellebecq is carrying on a literary tradition. Did I like this book? I would say yes Houellebecq’s treatment of the sex tourist industry is quite revealing and his characters are very believable and in fact it is a much better effort than Atomised.

You have to hand it to  French authors though. They excel at creating desolate unlikeable people: Maupassant, Moliere,  Genet, Anoulih,  Celine, Viann, Camus, Sartre.  Don’t ask me what it is but if you want sour reading of a high literary value, the French will never let you down in letting you down!