Whatever by Michel Houellebecq

Wednesday 25th April

Continuing the French theme somewhat I have just finished reading ‘Whatever’ by Michel Houellebecq, originally published en France as ‘Extension du domaine de la lutte’.   This was his debut novel and was an instant success, gaining him the accolade of enfant terrible at once.  Of course opinions are divided, some think he is brilliant and says the things others dare not, but for possibly older readers he is simply a shock-jock, peddling sleaze and shocking just for the sake of it.  But I believe there is far more going on here than just a desire to be considered outrageous; after all one could just write a book of four letter words, maybe spliced with a few racist and religiously offensive bon-mots to boot.  But Michel’s books do actually hold together and are quite readable.  He does tend to go off on one, at the least excuse, which can be a bit tedious, but he is also incredibly astute about what makes humans, and probably men in the main, actually tick, especially in the modern world where sex and money combine along with an air of disaffected boredom and dissatisfaction with their lives.  I first read ‘Atomised’, then ‘Platforme’ and more recently ‘The Possibility of a island’ so I am a bit of an addict.  I’ve just finished his debut ‘Whatever’ which is a personal account of someone going quietly mad, but not quite admitting that his behaviour is anything out of the unusual.  It is brilliant in places, boring in others and almost impenetrable in others.  Overall I quite enjoyed it, but am glad I had read his later more accomplished novels first or I may not have actually finished this earlier one.  A difficult writer, but no less rewarding for that.  So, as Janice used to say ‘I give it foive.’

PS – bonus point for telling me who Janice was.