Saturday, January 14, 2017

Review: "The Possibility of an Island" by Michel Houellebecq

Reading through The Possibility of an Island, the fourth and longest novel of controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq, I could not help but think the famous Julian Barnes quite that I feel epitomizes Houellebecq’s work: “he is a clever man but not a clever novelist.” Houellebecq harkens back to the great thinkers of the early 20th century, it is hard not to read his books and think of the work of writers like Aldous Huxley and most certainly Celine, but there is always something missing from his novels that make them great. He plays effortlessly with big ideas, but rarely does that translate into a palatable story for those who don’t share in Houellebecq’a bleak and brutal worldview. It comes off as crass and tawdry at times, especially during his tedious sex scenes or downright offense at worst. But I find his book’s to be entertaining overall, whether intentional or not. Daniel, the main character in this book, is very similar, or identical if you want to throw away pleasantries, to his other dower, overly educated libertines. He is a successful comedian, an art house filmmaker and a closeted scoundrel who, as he ages, becomes more depressed as his sex life diminishes and he comes down with a terminal case of ennui. This leads him into the ranks of a hedonistic cult who feel that cloning is the key to eternal happiness, the success of which is exhibited through Daniel’s clones, who narrate alternating chapters. None of Houellebecq’s books are a fun ride and they are as nihilistic as you can get, with this book’s ending, much like his others, is brutally unhappy and one scene, involving an orgy where Houellebecq’s ubiquitous themes of sex as a commodity and sexual class warfare is quite sad. But he is a pitch-black humorous streak that makes it somewhat palatable, although others might find it repugnant. Houellebecq is an interesting figure, one who stokes controversy, but who also makes you think more deeply of the world we live in.

Rating: 4/5

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