Avital's Reviews > The Elementary Particles

The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq
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Jun 12, 08

bookshelves: french

An unconventional, provocative book that seduced me into the heart of the most pessimistic social and philosophical conclusions regarding the collapse of the individual as well as the whole society in the face of failed values. Houellebecq puts the most outrageous words in the mouth of his characters, two brothers. They complain or comment about aging and body decay, lack of communication and cruelty of men. They also discuss wisdom, science and religion. One brother goes to extremes with his sexuality and the other is hardly interested in it, but both aren't satisfied. There are short breaks, where they come to appreciate women's compassion and love, implying it could have saved them if they had been capable of feeling it as well. (He would come back to it in Platform.)
The story serves as a conduit to introduce the readers with bleak reflections about themselves. I don't know if it's good, but it's extraordinary.

Here's a taste, a hilarious dialogue about brazil:
"But I really like Brazilian dance," she added, obviously trying to absolve herself for her interest in African dance. Much more of this and Bruno would really get irritated. He was starting to get pissed off about the world's obsession with Brazil. What was so great about Brazi? as far as he knew, Brazil was a shithole full of morons obsessed with soccer and Formula One.
It was the ne plus ultra of violence, corruption and misery. If ever a country were loathsome, that country, specifically was Brazil.
"Sophie," announced Bruno, "I could go on vacation to Brazil tomorrow. I'd look around a favela. the minibus would be armed-plated; so in the morning, safe, unafraid, I'd go sightseeing, check out eight-year-old prostitutes dying of AIDS. I'd spend the afternoon at the beach surrounded by filthy-rich drug barons and pimps. I'm sure that in such a passionate, not to mention liberal society, I could shake off the malaise of Western civilization. You're right, sophie: I'll go straight to a travel agent as soon as I get home.
Sophie considered him for a moment, her expression thoughtful, her brow lined with concern. eventually she said sadly: "You must have really suffered..."

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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Josh Excellent review, Avital. Very insightful. I like Houellebecq's work a lot. The Possibility of an Island is sort of a sequel to this novel, though it jumps way ahead in time.

Avital Have you read Platform?

Josh Platform is the only Houellebecq I haven't yet read; that and his book about H.P. Lovecraft. I've read Whatever, The Elementary Particles, and The Possibility of an Island. I'm a fan. I enjoy both dark and philosophical fiction, and Houellebecq delivers. Some moments in TEP were very moving, though. I'm thinking particularly of when one of the brothers (the unemotional cerebral one, I believe) curls up in the fetal position and cries after losing the one person who meant anything to him (at least that's how my sketchy two-year old memory recalls it). Doesn't sound like much when I describe it, but in the context of that character, it was a powerful scene for me.

What do you think of Platform?

Avital Platform has more compassion that The Elementary Particles, but it's just as sharp and inciting. It also has more of a story and less philosophical monologues. After reading these two books, it seems to me that Houellebecq believes that the right woman can save a man from life of solitary self-torture.

Josh Yes, I see what you mean about Houellebecq seeming to believe that the right woman can save a man from solitary self-torture. I think you're right.

Amid all of the bitter grotesque in Houellebecq's work, the bright moments(relatively, of course) really speak. I'm going to dig up Platform and get it on the to-read pile.

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