Houellebecq, Michel

Houellebecq, Michel mēshĕlˈ wĕlˈbĕk [key], b. 1958– or 1956–, French author, perhaps France's best-known contemporary novelist, b. Réunion as Michel Thomas. A literary pessimist and master of the politically incorrect, he is provocative, openly mysogynistic, and critical of Islam in his writings. His male protagonists are lost, despairing, and unfeeling, his female characters often unpleasant sex objects. He settled in Paris, publishing poetry at the age of 20; his early work also includes a biographical essay (1991) on H. P. Lovecraft. His first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994; tr. Whatever, 1998), introduced his bleak view of French society. In the semiautobiographical Les Particules élémentaires (1998; tr. The Elementary Particles, 2000), two abandoned half-brothers are raised by a grandmother; one becomes a sex-crazed adult, the other a scientist obsessed with human cloning. Grim, mysogynistic, yet often humorous, the novel was seen as a condemnation of the narcissistic 1960s generation and won him international fame. Houellebecq won the Goncourt Prize for La Carte et le Territoire (2010; tr. The Map and the Territory, 2011), the story of a successful painter and of a failed writer called Michel Houellebecq. Soumission (2015; tr. Submission, 2015), another dystopian novel, is largely a satirical critique of middle-class conformity; its protoganist, a depressed middle-aged professor, lives in a France led by a Muslim president and undergoing Islamicization. Houellebecq's other fiction comprises Lanzarote (2000, tr. 2003); Plateforme (2001; tr. Platform, 2002), which portrays conflict between sex tourism and radical Islam in Thailand; La Possibilité d'une île (2010; tr. The Possibility of an Island, 2012), which explores the grim possibilities of human cloning; and Serotonin (2019; tr. 2019), the tale of a misogynistic aristocratic agronomist and a criticism of the West and the European Union. Ennemis publics (2008; tr. Public Enemies, 2011) is an exchange of letters between Houellebecq and the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.

See studies by B. Jeffery (2011) and C. Sweeney (2015).

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