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The Possibility of an Island


ZebraMc
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I almost didn't finish this, but gave it a second chance and did, eventually, huff and puff my way through.

 

I hadn't read anything else by MH and bought this last summer in France because it had a "Prix des lecteurs" ("Readers' choice") sticker. I know that isn't the most scientific of reasons, but I'm sure we all judge a book (at least sometimes!) by its cover.

 

The central question with which the book begins is: "Who among us is worthy of eternal life?" The book explores this and there are some interesting philosophical debates between various characters. However, the book should have been half as long (200 ish pages instead of 400 ish). I got the point and it annoyed me that the author laboured it so much.

 

There are two narratives in the book: those of Daniel and his cloned successors. Daniel is a comedian whose twin obsessions are sex and ageing. Actually, one obsession - sex; he only appears interested in ageing to the extent that it will affect his ability to fall in love and have sex. His narrative is partly about his life, loves etc and partly about him meeting a sect called the Elohim (a google search reveals that the sect appears at least partly based on a real-life organisation) which strives to find a way to create eternal life for its adherents. In order to join the Elohim and (eventually) achieve eternal life, all members really have to do is bequeath their earthly possessions to the sect when they die. So, apparently, the answer to who is worthy of eternal life, appears to be anyone cynical enough to join the sect - there is no real moral or philosophical basis for the sect.

 

The narrative of the cloned successors is more interesting. They are 24th and 25th generation successors to the original Daniel. They live cut off from anyone else in a world which has undergone several catastrophic global events, apparently killing the majority of humans, leaving only a few "savages". Their only contact is via the internet. Their physical needs have been pared down to light, heat, water and salt. Slowly, the Daniel clone realises that this life is unfulfilling - no society, no individual decisions, no fulfilment. So much for eternal life. Daniel25 breaks out and the end of the book is about what he finds.

 

I am glad I soldiered on to the end, but I won't be reading any other MH. I think the same subject matter with a different author would have been more enjoyable. MH seems to want to shock the reader (lots of swearing, anti-Islamic comments and explicit sex), but I wasn't shocked, I was just annoyed and wanted him to get on with his exploration of his themes!

 

Zebra

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MH seems to want to shock the reader (lots of swearing, anti-Islamic comments and explicit sex), but I wasn't shocked, I was just annoyed and wanted him to get on with his exploration of his themes!
The anti-Islamic stuff did cause controversy. You may be interested to read Florian Zeller's The Fascination Of Evil, set in Egypt which features a character based on Michel Houellebecq.
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The anti-Islamic stuff did cause controversy. You may be interested to read Florian Zeller's The Fascination Of Evil, set in Egypt which features a character based on Michel Houellebecq.

 

or is it a characther based upon characthers of houellebecq's? i don't know, i've not read Zeller

 

back to Houellebecq and Possibility of an Island.

 

this i found a challenging read at the start. tough going it is. But i think it was worthwhile. an exceptional book. thoroughly enjoyable. it was very good.

 

houellebecq has magnificent talent for writing.

 

although judging by french reviews of his self directed movie adaptation of this book due out in september, not so much talent in directing

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  • 4 years later...

having just reread this book, I would like to respond to some of this:

 

 

IHis narrative is partly about his life, loves etc and partly about him meeting a sect called the Elohim (a google search reveals that the sect appears at least partly based on a real-life organisation) which strives to find a way to create eternal life for its adherents. In order to join the Elohim and (eventually) achieve eternal life, all members really have to do is bequeath their earthly possessions to the sect when they die. So, apparently, the answer to who is worthy of eternal life, appears to be anyone cynical enough to join the sect - there is no real moral or philosophical basis for the sect.

 

On the bequeathing of your assets at death to Elohim, the big central tenet of the cult was the very strongly anti-procreation. As the members of it wouldn't have children, that would take away the main beneficiary of their estates (although there would be nephews and nieces, animal charities. to quote david mitchell "those who give to animal charities have given up on humanity." i think Michel Houellebecq might be a big donor to animal charities :D jk)

 

 

I am glad I soldiered on to the end, but I won't be reading any other MH. I think the same subject matter with a different author would have been more enjoyable. MH seems to want to shock the reader (lots of swearing, anti-Islamic comments and explicit sex), but I wasn't shocked, I was just annoyed and wanted him to get on with his exploration of his themes!

 

Zebra

 

I think the main shock value with this was in the anti-children rants of the main character. There are many in it. Daniel felt that the death of his son from his first marriage was not a loss to anyone "his death was far from catastrophe. You can live without such human beings". There are many many others. one equates parents to being the slaves of children. I recall another were about young educated people not wanting "to put up with the bother and expense" of children. Daniel 1,5 is another chapter on this.

 

Speaking as some one with no interest in procreation (animal charities, start opening you wallets for when I die :D), these rants while too strong for me personally but that I don't mind them, could be off-putting for someone who might like to have children in the future. (apparently according to a work colleague, i should like babies and children "as I was once a baby." I really don't get his point. Of course, anyone who describes me as strongly anti-children, I could just say "read Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq and get back to me on whether you still think my view too strong")

 

What is a strong thing for Daniel is the unconditional love offered by Fox, the dog and this is mentioned in the book. It is interesting in contrast to the hatred he has for children.

 

Another thing on this point

 

In the clone commentary, they mention how the dog usually dies shortly after the change from one clone to another clone.

 

It's interested as later on after the murder of the prophet, his number 2 joker commits suicide. I think Houellebecq is relating joker to being a pet of the prophets)

 

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