Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: "Submission" by Michel Houellbecq

Michel Houellbecq’s most recent novel, Submission, comes with a lot of publicity, some of it good and some of it bad. It was published in Houellbecq’s native France on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and in it’s writing, is very critical of the doctrine of Islam. I won’t pontificate on my opinions here, that is not what my reviews are for, but I will say that those ideas are present in the book, but they are merely a tool he uses to expose one man’s flotsam life as he stumbles, ever so not-gracefully into old age and an ineffectual existence. I first read Houellbecq back in high school (when I didn’t know how to pronounce his last name), and this book has a lot more in common with my favorites, such as The Elementary Particles and Platform, recalling writers like Celine and Georges Bataille, mixing a strong intellect, a questionable distaste for modern or mainstream life and lots of intricately described perversions. The book takes place in the near future, and focuses Francois, a literary professor; whose primary area of study are the decadent novels of late 19th century author J. K. Huysmans. Entering middle age, he finds himself bored with his life, which consists of binges on junk food, porn and occasional flings with his students. In the midst of these doldrums, his country puts into power, with the help of a Socialist party, the Islamic party, which immediately institutes changes to society, such as legalized polygamy, reduced rights for women, and control of the education system. Eventually, Francois must choose to whether to lose his job or convert to Islam. Through this dilemma, Houellbecq explores the end of one man’s life before it ends physically. The submission to Islamic law and life is, in a sense, identical to Francois’ submission to his useless life. It, like all of his novels, is very bleak and filled with magnificently bad sex scenes, so it is not for everyone. But once you wade through that, you see something akin to optimism in Houellbecq’s prose, a kind of cry for change, and a hope that people aren’t as bad as he, or his characters think they are. This is a book heavy on ideas, but they go down easy, whether you find them enlightening or repugnant.

Rating: 4/5

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