‘Anéantir’: Michel Houellebecq’s new novel mixes the esoteric ‘thriller’ with the electoral chronicle | Culture

Michel Houellebecq’s new novel misleads. It is not what it appears. It seems at times a thriller geopolitical with attacks, spies and an esoteric background. At the same time it is a family melodrama with a patriarch admitted to a residence in the heart of the French countryside. And in parallel it is presented as the story of an electoral campaign for the presidency of France seen from the machinery of power.

Annihilate (“Annihilate”), which the Flammarion publishing house publishes in French on January 7 and that Anagrama plans to publish in Spanish and Catalan at the end of August, is not exactly that. Or is it much more. It is a novel about the fragility of existence and the loneliness of contemporary man in a world without god. It is about love and marital devotion. Houellebecq (La Reunion, 65 years old) has written a desperate ballad about life and the reasons to live it or give it up, a book about disease and entropy and destruction with a twist that leaves all of the above in the air before the moving climax that finishes it off.

“Some Mondays at the end of November, or at the beginning of December, especially if you are single, you have the feeling of being on death row,” he starts Annihilate and thus captures the reader, with a phrase that seems a parody of the style and themes of Houellebecq himself. The book closes with a chapter of thanks in which the author, after explaining how useful it has been for him to document himself with doctors and toying with the reputation of being a hopeless pessimist, concludes with irony: “I just came to a positive conclusion by chance ; it’s time to stop. “

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In between, the 734 most anticipated pages of the literary season: the eighth novel, three years after Serotonin, from a writer with pop icon status (he even appears as a character on Asterix’s latest album) and praised for his ability to dissect the unconfessed anguish of our civilization, and to be the oracle of its decline.

All the mannerisms of the author of Elementary particles They’re in Annihilate. The fast and efficient style, but with ups and downs and at times washed out. The bar counter sentences mixed with others of painful clarity. The sociological look at the current world, the closest thing in the 21st century to the naturalists of the 19th century. Sex The acid mockery of liberals and their hypocrisies. Also, in the opinions of some characters about Muslims or women, a literary version of what in politics would be Éric Zemmour, ultra candidate for the presidential elections of 2022 “There were Arabs, many Arabs in the streets”, it is observed, “and this was certainly an innovation with respect to the general atmosphere of the Beaujolais and of the whole of France ”.

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Michel Houellebecq, in Paris in April 2019.
Michel Houellebecq, in Paris in April 2019.LIONEL BONAVENTURE (AFP)

Annihilate are three intertwined stories that unfold over about a year. One is that of Bruno Juge, Minister of Economy and Finance who is running in the 2027 presidential elections as number two of Benjamin Sarfati, star of a talk show. Both have been appointed by a president about to run out of his second term. Although he is not named, he is Emmanuel Macron. Sarfati could be a transcript of Cyril Hanouna, a television celebrity in France; Juge is inspired by the true Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire.

First surprise: the France that Macron leaves in 2027 is, against those who claim “the prophets of misery” (read Houellebecq), a powerhouse in industry and innovation. “And all this”, it reads, “without answers, without strikes, in an atmosphere of surprising approval.”

A ‘Macronian’ protagonist

The protagonist of Annihilate His name is Paul Raison. About to turn 50, Minister Juge’s henchman, he is a character houellebecquiano, cynical and lonely. In addition, it is an authentic gay macronensis trained, like Macron, in the National School of Administration, the incubator of the French ruling class, and immersed in the bubble of the French high administration. Paul does not believe in anything and everything is indifferent to him; as his surname indicates, everything trusts reason.

“Was he responsible for this world?” Asks the narrator, adopting Paul’s point of view. “To a certain extent yes, he belonged to the state apparatus, however, he did not love this world.”

Another parallel plot begins with the cerebral infarction that leaves Paul’s father, a retired spy, in a coma and later in a state of immobility and total dependence in a town in the Beaujolais wine region. The disease encourages the reunion between the children: the Catholic sister and supporter of Marine Le Pen, a sister-in-law who is an unscrupulous journalist, the second wife of the patient consecrated to care for him … Houellebecq, contrary to euthanasia, makes a character: “The real reason for euthanasia, actually, is that we no longer support the old, we don’t even want to know that they exist. That is why we park them in specialized places, out of the sight of other humans. “

The third plot narrates the attacks against a container ship off the coast of A Coruña, a sperm bank in Denmark and a boat with migrants off the coasts of Ibiza and Formentera. Paul discovers some enigmatic documents in his father’s house with clues about the authorship. The clues point to “anarcoprimitivists” whose project “consists of returning humanity to the Middle Palaeolithic level”, or to groups of “eco-fascists” with satanic influences. “The worst thing,” Paul thinks, “is that if the goal of the terrorists was to annihilate the world as he knew it, the modern world, he could not completely unreason them.”

In Paul these stories converge that, about 130 pages from the end, are interrupted. From then on Paul — and Prudence, his devoted wife, with whom he reconnects after years of living in separate rooms — occupy all the space. We will not reveal what happens. We will say that it is cited The flap, the book by journalist Philippe Lançon, whose face was disfigured by the shooting by Islamists who attacked the weekly Charlie Hebdo in 2015. There are also references to the reactionary thinker Joseph de Maistre and the romantic poet Alfred de Musset, who wrote: “I have come too late to a world that is too old.” And to the wise Pascal: “The last act is bloody, no matter how beautiful the comedy has been in all the rest: finally the earth is thrown over it, and it is over forever.”

Houellebecq, who often passes for himself a nihilist, has something of a Christian writer. In this and his recent novels there is a nostalgia for God and religion, and a belief in love as redemption. And he is a moralist: an observer at times arbitrary and superficial, at other times lucid, of this world and its people, of our customs.

Bruno Le Maire, model of Bruno Juge, declared a few weeks ago to EL PAÍS: “I consider that Michel Houellebecq, who is a friend and a writer for whom I feel a deep admiration, is one of the best mirrors not of French society, but of the anguish, the concerns of French society ”. I could have added: from western society. In Annihilate has proven it again.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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