A quirky and intriguing read

2012-01-04 00:00

MICHEL Houellebecq is a well-established, prize-winning, if controversial, French writer, whose writings include Whatever, Atomised and several other works, which have managed to raise the ire of officials in France. However, this book is the first of his writings that I personally have encountered, and I found it a quirky, intriguing read. I especially enjoyed the sardonic take on life in contemporary and future France, although I am sure, as a South African, I missed many of the local allusions.

The protagonist, Jed Martin, is an artist, and through Houellebecq’s survey of his life and various artistic approaches, he engages with the issues of the time, and particularly, with the loneliness and idiosyncracies of an artist’s life. In an amusing dig at notions of authorship, Houellbecq writes himself into the story as the person asked to write the catalogue for an exhibition of Jed Martin’s paintings of “Professions” — a series of portraits of people at work.

This involves Martin visiting Houellebecq and striking up a friendship, which lasts some years, thereby presenting an ironic self-portrait of the writer.

Towards the end, a horrific ­murder occurs, which allows ­Houellebecq to satirise the popular genre of police and detective writing.

This novel engages with depression, ageing and loneliness, but these themes are set against a ­brilliantly satirical analysis of contemporary living to provide a very entertaining read.

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