Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Elementary Particles

I'm on a roll here - my last post was about a play centered around a male prostitute, and now I've just finished a piece of filthy literature by Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles. Houellebecq is Big News in France - their current shining literary star and a subject of constant controversy. I'd wondered about reading him for a while, but so many people gave me dubious looks and said, "You know, Erin, he's great but I think you might hate his books," that I didn't pick one up...until recently, when Ariana assured me that he's a genius and Not To Be Missed.

Now, allow me to say the same to you, gentle reader: The Elementary Particles is great, but there's a good chance you will hate it. My one sentence review would be: Something along the lines of Borat, if you added more sex, a compelling voice, and lots of science. This is kind of inapt, but if you've seen Borat you probably remember thinking something along the lines of, "No matter how offensive this is, or how horrified I am, there's something true here..." That's the connection.

Here's an excerpt; not the most offensive, but not the least either:
For many women, adolescence is exciting - they're really interested in boys and sex. But gradually they lose interest; they're not so keen to open their legs or get on their knees and wiggle their ass. They're looking for a tender relationship they never will find, for a passion they're no longer capable of feeling. Thus they begin the difficult years. (193, Vintage edition, trans Frank Wynne)
I could go on and on about this book (it deserves discussion) but I'll finish off with two quick thoughts.

(1) More than with any other novel I've read recently, I found myself wondering what Michel Houellebecq himself is like and, in particular, what's wrong with him. Something is definitely wrong with him. Even if he is a genius.

(2) I now understand the reactions I got from Houellebecq readers. I appear to be doing a really bad job of recommending it myself - even though, in fact, I recommend it highly and hope somebody who reads this review will read the book, and talk about it with me.

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