Tony's Reviews > The Map and the Territory

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
33771
's review
Mar 10, 12

liked it
bookshelves: french
Read from March 02 to 09, 2012

It was public knowledge that Houellebecq was a loner with strong misanthropic tendencies: it was rare for him even to say a word to his dog.

Martin Amis did it before, in Money, when he introduced himself, 'Martin Amis', as a character in the book. Houellebecq replays the conceit here, with a similar pretension and expanded role for himself. In the spirit of literary self-flagellation, in addition to the epitaph offered above, Houellebecq does horrible things to himself. I would be plot-spoiling to say more.

Yet the main character is not Houellebecq, but Jed Martin. Like Houellebecq's other protagonists, Jed has an ease with women despite himself and is utterly incapable of sustaining a relationship. The author Houellebecq does sex no better than the character Houellebecq:

"I . . ." he croaked. Olga turned around and noticed it was serious: she immediately recognized that blinded, panicked look of a man who can no longer withstand his desire. She made a few steps toward him, enveloped him with her voluptuous body, and kissed him on the lips.

230 pages in, the book becomes a murder mystery. Except it doesn't really.

I suppose you could dissect this. Jed first photographed still life, then machine parts. He has an epiphany and begins to photograph Michelin maps. This is how he made his first millions. It's how he meets the delightful Olga. And it's how we have the supposed theme of this book, printed in capital letters in case we missed the significance: THE MAP IS MORE INTERESTING THAN THE TERRITORY.

Not exactly ¿Le gusta este jardín, que es suyo? ¡Evite que sus hijos lo destruyan!, now is it?

Later he paints people in different professions. He paints Michael Houellebecq: Writer, of course. Houellebecq, the character, doesn't seem to care. I thought, then, that Houellebecq, the author, was giving me, the reader, direction.

This book has the same malaise, the same ennui as Houellebecq's earlier books. He just left out the sex this time. Instead, there was a gruesome murder. Which I was okay with. Especially because we learn photographs of the crime scene look like monochromatic Jackson Pollock paintings. But there was also a scene where Jed beats up a woman working in a Swiss Euthanasia clinic. Which really bothered me.
14 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Map and the Territory.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· "that blinded, panicked look of a man who can no longer withstand his desire. She made a few steps toward him, enveloped him with her voluptuous body, and kissed him on the lips."

Ow, that brings tears to the eyes doesn't it? Is this just lazy writing or is he taking the piss? Hard to tell sometimes.


Tony 'Taking the piss'? Remember, I'm from the States and don't speak English. Translate, please.


message 3: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· Tony wrote: "'Taking the piss'? Remember, I'm from the States and don't speak English. Translate, please."

You're up early. (TWSS). What about kidding? Messing us about? Taking the mickey (that's probably another Britishism). Making fun of us. Is he serious? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS - I love Big John MacEnroe.


Tony He was not kidding. And you can't blame the translator for a passage like that.


message 5: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I just wondered, because there's a stage version of this running at the Düsseldorf Theatre (I'm going at the end of March) where all the reviews use words like bitter irony, parody, satire, persiflage, and a friend of mine who's already seen it said she had a real laugh. But that's one director's reading of it.


Tony Well, there's persiflage. Some satiric moments, but nothing to make you snort your aperitif out onto your gown. If there's parody, I sure missed it. Bitter irony? Hmmm. No, not bitter. Maybe semi-sweet irony. Or just your garden variety irony.

There's times where he had me going. Then he resorted to 'voluptuous'. Really taking the mickey there.


message 7: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I just read this really interesting piece in the New York Review of Books comparing Houellebecq with American male writers.


Tony It is interesting. And it is thought-provoking. However, am I reading the piece right that Ms. Blair thinks that novelists should design their characters according to some feminist world-view? There's a place for that. And I might be all on-board. But novels are about people. Good people, bad people. I'm more than fine if an author portrays ALL his characters as shits.


message 9: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I don't think the word 'should' is in her vocabulary, she certainly is trying very hard to analyse, and not to judge. In fact my impression is rather that she has every sympathy for Houellebecq: "Houellebecq’s mode is to shock and provoke, and offending female sensibilities is fair game, but it’s also the least of his ambitions. He is willing—indeed, eager—to be unlikable in order to get under our skin, and therefore make his social criticisms more forcefully than a likable narrator can."
And she talks of Franzen as 'painstaking' or the Americans as 'skittish' and says that they leave 'an entire realm of erotic experience unrepresented', so although she's scrupulously even-handed I get the impression that she has more sympathy for Houellebecq than those who are making genuflections to female sensibilities.


message 10: by Tony (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tony You're right, Karen. I think I read some of the criticisms she collected - "a penis with a thesaurus" - as her own. I should read more carefully.


message 11: by ·Karen· (last edited Mar 15, 2012 09:30AM) (new)

·Karen· Tony wrote: "You're right, Karen. "

Aaaah, such sweet words.

BTW I found another 'Annie': I'm re-reading The Sense of an Ending because I'm doing it with one of my classes, and your theory is borne out once again. The protagonist gets to know an easy-going, uncomplicated girl when doing a kind of gap year in the USA, and has nice, easy-going uncomplicated sex with her, no strings attached. Annie.


message 12: by Tony (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tony The three most beautiful words in the English language? And it wasn't painful at all to type them. Honest.


message 13: by Lisa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lisa Lieberman I'm just starting this, kind of the yang to Modiano's yin (or is it the other way around?), will weigh in when I'm through.


message 14: by Tony (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tony Lisa wrote: "I'm just starting this, kind of the yang to Modiano's yin (or is it the other way around?), will weigh in when I'm through."

I haven't read Modiano yet, so I don't know who's yin and who's yang. But I look forward to your review. I liked two of Houellebecq's works better than this, but that may just be that I was new to him then.


back to top