Michel Houellebecq's new book, SUBMISSION, seems to have caused a good deal of stir in France, and is now producing much the same effect in the United States.
Houellebecq is a well-known novelist, although as is surely the case with many important people, places, things, and ideas this is the first mention of him in this or any of my blogs. His previous novels include WHATEVER (1994), THE ELEMENTARY PARTICLES (1998), PLATFORM (2001), and THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY (2010).
THE ELEMENTARY PARTICLES, or in French "Les Particules élémentaires," was first translated into English for the UK market as ATOMISED, then re-translated for the US market with the more literal translation of the title I've provided here. It may have been his most successful novel thus far.
The new book, though, concerns Islam. At least on its face. It postulates a near future in which an Islamicist political party wins a French national election and forms a government. Given contemporary politics in both Europe and the Middle East, this was a premise bound to kick up a fuss.
Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération, has said that the publication of this book marks "the date in history when the ideas of the far right made a grand return to serious French literature.” The left regards any contemplation of an Islamicist take-over in France as akin to, say the argument that Dreyfus really was a traitor and got what he deserved.
But as I said above the new book only "on its face" concerns Islam. The reviewer for The Guardian sees it as a satire on contemporary France, secularist, sclerotic, exhausted, waiting to be overwhelmed by some sort of tidal novelty. Perhaps Islamism is simply a literary artifice akin to the Persianness of the voice in Montesquieu's Persian Letters.
Marco Rich, who reviewed the novel (not very favorably, but without animus) in Harper's in October, observed that the Islamicization of France in Houllebecq's scenaro seemed to amount to making France a satellite of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which itself is an Islam of "mundane compromise," not the militant faith of ISIS or the Taliban.
Herein is my usual confession: I haven't read the book, and don't plan to. This blog entry should be considered merely a non-judgmental observation of one of the passing fancies of the world around me.