The Passion Killer Essay Research Paper The

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The Passion Killer Essay, Research Paper The passion killerThe mark of a true controversialist may be the ability to lean back, fag in mouth, and shrug that there’s nothing that controversial about controversy. Novelist and poet Michel Houellebecq has been hailed as France’s biggest literary discovery – and source of scandal – since Camus. Not only has he sold some 300,000 copies of his second novel, Les Particulaires Elémentaires (now translated as Atomised); he has been attacked for it by both right and left, Catholics and communists, natural enemies and erstwhile allies. It’s no big deal, he says. “Polemical debates happen all the time in France. This was quite a big one, but any attentive reader of the French press gets bored if there isn’t one every three

months – it’s part of the national character. I get bored with it.” It is precisely because of Houellebecq’s assault on the national character that his readers hold him in such reverence – or such contempt. Atomised is an ambitious dissection of the modern French social psyche that traces its malaises to the supposed annus mirabilis , 1968. Countless French fictions complain about that year’s radical dreams going awry, but Houellebecq goes so far as to identify soixante-huitisme as the beginning of the end for French society. In Atomised, cherished ideals of left and right alike go to the wall – sexual self-fulfilment, New Age spiritualism, even such unimpeachable liberal concepts as “human dignity” and “progress”. Houellebecq’s compelling and often

vengeful saga of modern France, enacted in the grievously disappointing lives of two half-brothers, is flavoured with a misanthropy not seen in French literature since Céline. The Flaubertian lucidity of Houellebecq’s writing persuades you that he’s something more than a venomous wind-up artist, or worse, a sort of literary Bernard Manning. Slight, shabby and 41, he hardly looks a typical French-lit cult hero. The only thing he has in common with Albert Camus is his chain-smoking. He distractedly tweaks his stringy, combed-over hair and ums and ahs barely audibly. Presumably young French readers have tired of flashy nouveaux philosophes in open-neck shirts, and decided to try a diffident poète maudit of the old school. Quite apart from what Houellebecq’s novels say is the

way they say it: a strange, fluid blend of thinly disguised autobiography, sweeping sociological tableau and hard scientific treatise. There’s nothing new about this approach, he insists. “Balzac never hesitated to launch into his theories halfway through a book. The great advantage of a novel is you can put in whatever comes into your head – it has the same shape as the human brain.” Houellebecq’s approach is justified by the fact that he deals not so much with characters as with “symptomatic individuals” who represent their age. If human relations are breaking down, as he suggests in his first novel, Extension du Domaine de la Lutte (translated as Whatever), then the old tales of stormy passion are no longer possible: “We’re a long way from Wuthering

Heights.” In fact, Houellebecq insists, he’s a long way from most novels’ concerns. “I describe what happens to normal people – people whom nothing special happens to.” His characters either drift robotically through mind-numbing day jobs, obsessively pursue sexual thrills, or live lives of depressive monotony, such as Michel, the scientist in Atomised, who nevertheless makes a discovery that changes the world. “Active people don’t change the world profoundly; ideas do,” Houellebecq says. “Napoleon is less important in world history than Jean-Jacques Rousseau.” There’s a certain bitter facility in Houellebecq’s satirising of bureaucracy and New Ageism alike, but where his books really hurt for many French readers is in the way they present sex as a