Frankly I read this because my 16-year old did, and considering the negative buzz surrounding Houellebecq I was wondering if she was polluting her beautiful young mind with misogynist pornography. I didn’t expect to like it. So it is with surprise that I bestow 5 stars upon it. A wonderful book - rich, true and wickedly funny.
Now that I’ve looked into Houellebecq a bit more I see this was maybe an odd place to start; his other, more misanthropic, sexually-charged books are what got him all the attention. But I don’t care. This was a very satisfying read on many levels, from the narrative style to the prose, from the originality to the humor and insight.
The main character is a painter named Jed Martin who is first launched to fame by a series he does using Michelin maps. On a trip with his father, they stop at a rest stop, where he buys a map.
“It was then, unfolding the map, while standing by the cellophane-wrapped sandwiches, that he had his second great aesthetic revelation. This map was sublime. Overcome, he began to tremble in front of the food display. Never had he contemplated an object as magnificent, as rich in motion and meaning as this 1/150,000-scale Michelin map of the Creuse and Haute-Vienne. The essence of modernity, of scientific and technical apprehension of the world, was here combined with the essence of animal life. The drawing was complex and beautiful, absolutely clear, using only a small palette of colours. But in each of the hamlets and villages, represented according to their importance, you felt the thrill, the appeal, of human lives, of dozens and hundreds of souls ...”
At some point later in the book, someone observes that the map is more interesting than the territory. Contemplating (and rendering) the world is more interesting than being involved in it.
I loved the take on the art/literary world. I enjoyed the storyline with the father, the reflections on France and society, on death, on relationships. Houellebecq bringing himself in as a character was a master stroke and revealing. I adored the rant about Picasso. The way he did himself in was marvelous. To me it was a subdued joyride of a book, not in that it was uplifting, but because the author tugged the rip cord and let it rip.