Monday, 13 August 2007

Terrible weekend. My father paid one of his hit-and-run visits. Just long enough to stir up the viper's nest of nastiness that is our family history, short enough to ensure nothing would ever be resolved. How I wish one could divorce one's family once and for all. I'd cite mental cruelty.

I finished Michel Houellebecq's "Atomised" this morning. Hated it so much I dedicated an hour to giving it a good pasting on Amazon. Here it is, if you're interested:

"Les Mots Unjustes"

"It's a long time since I disliked a book this much. Not since I read Iain Bank's "A Song of Stone", probably ten years ago. Perhaps if I had been a) male b) adolescent c) experiencing an existential crisis I might have enjoyed it more. But frankly I thought nihilism died a welcome death with Sartre et al. I tired very quickly of Houellebecq's preoccupations - sex devoid of emotional connection; violence; the ascendence of intellect, individualism and appetite over any of the more 'feminine' values such as compassion, hope, faith, commitment and community.

We are given four characters living at the margins of life, obsessed by ageing and sexual decline. Three of them commit suicide, one goes mad. Unless Houellebecq is some kind of literary double agent, subtly satirising the very beliefs he seems to expound, we’re supposed to accept that these people represent all of us, and the purported malaise at the heart of the human condition, at least in the West. But these narrow caricatures, these bundles of obsession and neurosis are not real people and they are not representative of how most of us live. Which makes "Atomised" less a trenchant and encompassing analysis of life in the latter half of the 20th century, and more a silly, one-sided, obsessional uber-masculine polemic, clearly shaped by the author's own proclivities and persona. It isn't groundbreaking, or even stimulating, but dull, like being stuck next to a vain, ageing academic, tipsy and tedious, at a Parisian dinner party, grinding on about his own fixations, mocking everything he doesn’t understand. There’s no plot or story to speak of - just endless exposition, intellectual posturing, cynicism and pessimism.

I’m left wondering if there can really be anything more arrogant, more short-sighted or sollipsistic than a middle-aged male author, who assumes that the whole of Western civilisation is going down the pan just because his own body, his own faculties are beginning to fail him? That kind of thinking smacks of the self-obsession of adolescence. But then Houellebecq's real subject, his genuine area of expertise, is undoubtably men who have never grown up."

I like to think of Houellebecq reading it, chain-smoking Gitanes in a fit of pique. Well, I can dream....


Lorna F said...

I love this review of Atomised. Living in Oxford, I've seen more than my fair share of the 'vain, ageing academic' type, 'grinding on about his own fixations'. Oh, yes.

Muvva said...

Lol... yeah, having been at college there, I've met a few myself. Tedious old buggers!

amazon won't post this, btw. Not bland enough, I think. I need to think of a way to sneak it past their bot check.