In a lengthy autobiographical article published on his website now defunct , he states that his parents "lost interest in [his] existence pretty quickly", and at the age of six, he was sent to France to live with his paternal grandmother, a communist , while his mother left to live a hippie lifestyle in Brazil with her recent boyfriend. He graduated in , married and had a son; then he divorced, and became depressed. They divorced in Six years later, in , he published a biographical essay on the horror writer H. Lovecraft , a teenage passion, with the programmatic subtitle Against the World, Against Life. It was followed by his first collection of poetry, La poursuite du bonheur The pursuit of happiness.
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A grown man, Houellebecq reads like an adolescent. Alternately timid and aggressive, solemn, hormonal, posturing, helpless, Houellebecq tosses stones through the windows of European polite speech and attitudes, then runs away. He watches television and visits peep-shows in the way of such characters in fiction. When his father is murdered on a point of honour by a north African, Michel inherits some money and joins a package tour to Thailand, where he migrates between massage parlours and the bottle.
The other tourists are fat and plebeian. Back in Paris, they embark on a love affair. With the narrative in the doldrums, the sex becomes wet, various and frantic. The new package holidays are a success with the Germans - a stupid race, apparently, notoriously without culture. The story works in its preposterous way because we are not engaging with reality.
Too inhibited to address the reader directly, Houellebecq employs a series of ready-made literary styles: television game-show, holiday brochures, the Guide du Routard, genuine and pastiche social science, feuilleton historiography, the business press. There is page after page of ballast, including reviews to no purpose of novels by John Grisham, Frederick Forsyth and Agatha Christie.
In the Thai episodes, Houellebecq is at pains to exclude any sentiment unless it is banal, ignorant and touristic. In the doldrums at the beginning of the love affair in Paris, he devotes long and inaccurate passages to the economics of the holiday business.
Unfortunately, Houellebecq becomes hopelessly distracted by his incontinent love of sexual description. She is of a type more likely to be found in French masculine fiction than in nature. Even her nasty end cannot give her reality. Dispersed through this story, and often at a diagonal to it, are bar-room opinions that yet do not amount to a reactionary programme.
Michel argues that European women are too hard on their men, who find Thai prostitutes less demanding company. While that may be true of some European men and some Thai women, we cannot explore it through the novel for that would require genuine incidents and personalities. The novel now proceeds through assertion. There is nothing so dreary as a reactionary libertine.
Sex tourism, Michel tells us, is an essential component of the international division of labour. On the other hand, you have several billion people who have nothing, who starve, who die young, who live in conditions unfit for human habitation and who have nothing left to sell except their bodies and their unspoiled sexuality".
There is much more of this in the style of the Marquis de Sade at his most pompous. Actually, women are inscrutable.
So are Chinese people. Michel is prone to flashes of pointless rage, hates pork butchers and Protestants. But his main characteristic is his fear of Muslims. Politically, Islam is a threat to the diversity of European society which turns out to be not such worthless trash after all. At such times, Michel sounds like Pim Fortuyn. Remembering, no doubt, that he is offending against the rules of speech in polite society, Houellebecq brings on a pair of Muslim characters to criticise their religion and then depart.
It is not a tautology but a statement of radical monotheism. For the smug British reader, Platform will seem nothing so much as a resurrection of the old anti-liberal, anti-semitic, anti-Dreyfusard tradition in French thought and society. Actually, continental liberalism is under assault from two directions. His view of European culture - scary, over-feminised, lonely, demeaning, faithless - is that of the worst sort of low-grade Muslim propaganda.
Whole sections of Platform reminded me of the Saudi newspapers of 20 years ago.
A grown man, Houellebecq reads like an adolescent. Alternately timid and aggressive, solemn, hormonal, posturing, helpless, Houellebecq tosses stones through the windows of European polite speech and attitudes, then runs away. He watches television and visits peep-shows in the way of such characters in fiction. When his father is murdered on a point of honour by a north African, Michel inherits some money and joins a package tour to Thailand, where he migrates between massage parlours and the bottle. The other tourists are fat and plebeian. Back in Paris, they embark on a love affair. With the narrative in the doldrums, the sex becomes wet, various and frantic.
French kisses... and the rest
They are as permanent as clouds. But the novels of Michel Houellebecq have an important difference. For a start, they are wilfully obscene. They are also full of provocative, often comic attacks against left-liberal orthodoxies, against Islam, against capitalism and against any idea of progress. Reading Houellebecq pronounced Wellbeck is like being caught up in a tropical storm: you are blown away by the ferocity of his imagination. The human, he believes, is a fallen creature for whom respite from the meaninglessness of the world can be found only in a kind of intense erotic abandon, in succumbing to what Iago called preposterous desires - Platform, like much of his work, is distinguished by its very good sex scenes. Yet Houellebecq is a profoundly moral writer.