This review of a novel based on the rapidly increasing Muslim population in France was written in 2014, a few months before the Charlie Hebdo massacre by Muslim extremists. It seems appropriate to revisit it with the debate about the numbers of Muslims coming now to NZ — at present they are estimated to be only 0.9% of the NZ population, (although they are projected to reach 6% by 2040), but in France it is more like 8% now. There are huge resulting social problems as nearly all are from north or central African countries, poorly skilled and educated, live mainly in highly concentrated urban ghettos and many are intolerant of French authority.
Houllebecq’s novel Serotonin was published in an initial run of 350,000.
by Roger Childs
A controversial writer
Michel Houellebecq is regarded by some as the enfant terrible of French writing and by others as a literary genius. What is not in doubt is that he is a best-selling author and The Times calls him ‘currently France’s greatest literary export’.
He exploded on to the world of novels with Atomized, a story about two dysfunctional brothers, one of whom has sex on the brain and the other has great difficulty with the female population. He followed this up with Platform, a novel about sex tourism.
Houellebecq has been criticised for his male characters regarding women primarily as sex objects and for his explicit language. However, all his books have a strong philosophical element as well as poetry; scientific, social and political observations; and strong plot development.
He is a very honest, and sometimes humorous writer, who unashamedly tells it how it is and he challenges the reader with plenty of interesting theories on the ways of the world and the future.
His latest book Submission is no exception.
France as a Muslim state?
This is what Houellebecq convincingly postulates for 2022. François teaches at the Sorbonne, but now in his mid-forties is a burnt-out case. He lives alone, but each year takes on one of his students as a lover. He hasn’t seen his parents for years and in the course of the story they both pass on.
His field of expertise is the 19th century novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, but although seemingly safe in his job, he still wonders about where his life is going.
He hasn’t been a political animal, but with presidential elections looming and the usual French impasse of left and right, he starts to take notice.
This is especially because there is a new player in the political field: The Muslim Brotherhood led by the charismatic Muhammed Ben Abbes.
However, surely the left and the right, headed by the Front National, will do their usual backroom deals and orchestrate strategic voting to prevent the unthinkable: an Islamic president?
The writer at his best
This is probably Houellebecq’s best novel, because it sets up an unlikely set of events which perceivably could happen. There is plenty of depth in the discussions François has with professional colleagues and the husband of one, who works for French intelligence.
As with all his characters, Francois is flawed and self doubting, but he is an intelligent thinker and his observations challenge the reader to take a position on topics such as euthanasia, the role of God in the universe, the subjugation of women and the reshaping of capitalism based on small businesses.
At 250 pages this is a very manageable read and Houellebecq shows his usual skill in keeping the story moving along while providing philosophical insights and fascinating information.
You may not agree with all his views, but Houellebecq is a great story teller and the reader cannot remain indifferent to his perceptions.
As Europe is currently seeing an invasion of Muslim ‘refugees’, Submission’s basic premise for France could well be prophetic.
–The Hungarian cover for the book was more provocative than the French.