Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Elementary Particles

Although I had heard of Michel Houellebecq before, this was the first novel of his I've delved into. The Elementary Particles created somewhat the controversy in France when it was released, and did so on a smaller scale when it was translated into English and brought to our American shores. The Economist writes that "Houllebecq is France's biggest literary sensation since Francoise Sagan, people are saying Since Albert Camus." While that is an extraordinary comment to make, I must say that in some ways I agree. Although I think the reference to Camus may be a bit over the top, I did enjoy this book for its dark humour and candid style.
The novel is about two half brothers who struggle...with...basically everything; after being raised by "hippie" parents who are the epitome of hedonism. Michel becomes a renowned scientist incapable of love, and Bruno basically exists in his own underground version of life which consists of sex, drinking, and decrepit thoughts. He too, finds it almost impossible to love another human being.
While sounding totally depressing, (and it is), I think the author captured the essence of loneliness, perversion, and the will to survive (no matter how dreadful our existence) incredibly well. While this book is not a "feel good read", I do think it will spark an interest in some readers and indeed there will be those that consider it one of the great contemporary novels of our time. It is dreary. It is slightly perverse. It is maddening. But the glimmer of humanity that punctuates every couple of chapters is worth the bumpy ride. While I would hesitate to recommend this book to many people; it certainly would suit a certain "niche" of readers. I being one of them. I will read more by this author in the future.

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