Review of Submission by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Lorin Stein
The controversial novel from Michel Houellebecq as if he'd write any thing but controversial text. In this novel as various articles about it referred to is that the Muslim Brotherhood wins the French presidential election in the run off against Marine Le Pen so their candidate, Ben Abbes takes over from Hollande in 2022 (so this is not a prophetic novel, complete fiction ) . Hoellebecq in a previous novel, the woeful Platform had long long anti-Muslim rants and I worried there could be the same in this.
The main character is Francois, a senior professor in a Paris University on literature, his specialist writer being the 19th century novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans. He regularly spends the year in a relationship with one of his students. Currently it is a Jewish girl called Myriam. Francois is probably also the most outgoing and social main character for a Houellebecq novel, occasionally attending functions and accepting dinner invitations although when compared to the others, this wasn't hard. Some usual tropes of his are also present - bad/non-existent parental links, , detailed sexual content.
I am intrigued with a few paragraphs on the flaws of nationalism on page 215 though my biggest conclusion being those in academic world who convert to Islam to keep their jobs are those that previously had nativist/national front connections and the imagined France under Abbes' Muslim Brotherhood being the Frances that liberals/left-wingers/socialists etc would be against but the support of these groups in the run of was what got Abbes elected only to see Abbes bring in policies contrary to these. I see this more than a critique on Islam/Muslim,it is more I feel a satire on politics in general and I think shots are taking against all sides.
I quite enjoyed this novel. Some Houellebecq novels have been terrible (Platform and Whatever) and some have been excellent (Atomised and The Possibility of an Island). This fits in as not being his greatest work but very good nonetheless.
* * * *
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!