22 October 2008

Lanzarote, by Michel Houellebecq

I wrote a review of Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles - which I really liked - for the upcoming issue of Caterwaul Quarterly. I believe I said something in the review about it being better than his other books, and Lanzarote illustrates my point. It's short and to the point, but unfortunately, Houellebecq's point gets tired pretty quickly - expressed once well, it becomes shrill and paranoiac upon repetition. It's a pity, because Houellebec is an excellent prose writer - though admittedly, I read him in translation - his writing is sharp and wry and funny. The first 20 pages or so of Lanzarote are great. The narrator is a cynical jerk, but oddly sympathetic nonetheless. But then the focus shifts to the usual graphic sex and "the world is going to hell in a handbasket because of all these religious freaks" stuff that makes Houellebecq so controversial. I suppose he'd argue that his self-absorbed protagonists, while they may be repellent, are not wreaking havoc on nearly so large a scale as the "religious freaks" he loves to hate, but I still find the vitriol off-putting. It reminds me of this in some ways - I'd have sympathy for the project, perhaps, if it weren't so vicious and hateful. I'm not advocating turning the other cheek or anything, but it doesn't make any sense to me to attack people for being small-minded and intolerant by being small-minded and intolerant yourself. I prefer this kind of approach, myself.

Uh... point being, I was underwhelmed by this book. Maybe it's because of all this stuff going on in politics these days (see links), but more likely, it's that the book just loses its shine half-way through. 

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