At the end of the day, isn’t there something ridiculous about some puny create, living on an anonymous planet, in a remote spur of an ordinary galaxy, standing up on his hind legs and announcing, ‘God does not exist’? 206
Houellebecq imagines France turning away from secular humanism and embracing a moderate form of political Islam in the early 2020s. The story is narrated by a French professor of literature, whose own life reflects the broader culture’s struggle to find meaning without submission to faith.
The book is engaging and suspenseful; it creates a sense of excitement and unease that real political instability might. The final third of the story doesn’t maintain or resolve the momentum and intrigue, but I feel this way about most fiction.
The story is witty, clever, humorous, politically incorrect, and deliberately provocative. There are some beautiful passages, which I’ve quoted below.
I don’t know much about France, but the story contains a seeming caricature of the existentialist French academic: excessive drinking, excessive thinking, smoking, womanizing, nihilism, suicidal ideation. This seems to be the right character to tell this story, and was definitely an interesting and captivating guide to the story.
Related Books: ? Maybe The Fall by Albert Camus
Recommend to Others: if you are interested in global culture war and/or nice writing
Reread Personally: No
Only literature can grant you access to a spirit from beyond the grave – a more direct, more complete, deeper access than you’d have in conversation with a friend. Even in our deepest, most lasting friendships, we never speak so openly as when we face a blank page and address an unknown reader. The beauty of an author’s style, the music of his sentences, have their importance in literature, of course; the depth of an author’s reflections, the originality of his thought, certainly can’t be overlooked; but an author is above all a human being, present in his books, and whether he writes very well or very badly hardly matters – as long as he gets the books written and is, indeed, present in them. 5
What little private tutoring I’d done, to raise my standard of living, soon convinced me that the transmission of knowledge was generally impossible, the variance of intelligence extreme, and that nothing could undo or even mitigate this basic inequality. 9
A center-left candidate would be elected, serve either one or two terms, depending on how charismatic he was, then for obscure reasons he would fail to complete a third. When people got tired of that candidate, and the center-left in general, we’d witness the phenomenon of democratic change, and the voters would install a candidate of the center-right, also for one or two terms, depending on his personal appeal. Western nations took a strange pride in the system though it amounted to little more than a power-two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on nations that failed to share their enthusiasm. 38