Lisa's Reviews > The Elementary Particles

The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq
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Dec 30, 10

bookshelves: 1001-books-read, 20th-century, france, wish-i-hadn-t-wasted-my-time
Read in April, 2003

This is a thoroughly distasteful book, most unpleasant. I can't remember now why it was hyped back in 2003 when I read it; one can only wonder why. (This review is taken from my journal notes at the time).
It's supposed to be the story of two brothers, one a sex-crazed boor and the other a molecular biologist, thinker and idealist. So it said on the blurb, but I got so bored by the ramblings about atoms and DNA that I skipped most of those bits.
Which left me to read the pornographic descriptions of Bruno, assessing every woman he sees in terms of her breasts and the age and elasticity of her vagina. Fat, gross and repulsive, he is a total failure at sex himself, paying for prostitutes and masturbating over his students' assignments - until he meets Christian at a nudist camp. Houellebecq indulges a collection of fantasies of orgies, describing with evident relish the permutations of one joyless encounter after another.
The point of all this is meant to show how disconnected modern life is. Just meaningless sex and asexual thought and philosophy.
The scene where the brothers' mother dies reminded me of Camus' The Outsider, where the main character feels nothing at all and is incapable of love. But Camus deals with the problem of disconnectedness and alienation with elegance and subtlety. This one is just nasty.
If I could rate it zero I would. I think it's probably the worst book I've ever read. To discover it amongst the recommended titles in 1001 Books You Must Read is a surprise, to say the least.
PS, some years later in 2013
The first part of this essay (by someone who obviously knows what he's talking about) confirms my reaction, but also explains why this author is a literary person of note. http://nplusonemag.com/ancient-curse. It explains H's preoccupation with sex-as-market-enterprise and the notion that counters the solitariness of materialism, the EPR paradox i.e. that when particles interact their destinies link. Yeah, you have to read it (the essay, I mean, not the novel)...
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