Submission by Michel Houellebecq

In a near-future France, François, a middle-aged academic, is watching his life slowly dwindle to nothing. His sex drive is diminished, his parents are dead, and his lifelong obsession – the ideas and works of the nineteenth-century novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans – has led him nowhere. In a late-capitalist society where consumerism has become the new religion, François is spiritually barren, but seeking to fill the vacuum of his existence. And he is not alone. As the 2022 Presidential election approaches, two candidates emerge as favourites: Marine Le Pen of the Front National, and Muhammed Ben Abbes of the nascent Muslim Fraternity. Forming a controversial alliance with the mainstream parties, Ben Abbes sweeps to power, and overnight the country is transformed. Islamic law comes into force: women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged and, for François, life is set on a new course. Submission is both a devastating satire and a profound meditation on isolation, faith and love. It is a startling new work by one of the most provocative and prescient novelists of today.


The best parts in this are those in which Houellebecq talks about books. This is not to say that the rest is bad; far from it. French lit’s enfant terrible or not, Houellebecq is a brilliant novelist with a broad frame of reference, the acute perception of a longtime student of the nuts and bolts of modern society, and the irreverence to use his God-given sharp tongue to call any spade a spade.

Yes, one can argue a certain bias towards writing the same character over and over again or the fact that his ostensible lack of tact is taken just a little too far, perhaps even into the seeking-to-shock territory (which it manages quite well, on many counts), but then Houellebecq has made an art out of cultivating and exploiting this dirty-mouthed, undiplomatic, often risqué persona who may or may not have something to do with Houellebecq the man, but who has been consistently churning out the type of fiction that has people indignant and excited and constantly talking about it.

Not a big fan of the excruciatingly detailed sex, however significant to the general narrative… Otherwise, this shocked, scared, and thrilled me to no end. Best book I read this summer.


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