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The Elementary Particles

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  33,611 ratings  ·  2,089 reviews
An international literary phenomenon, The Elementary Particles is a frighteningly original novel–part Marguerite Duras and part Bret Easton Ellis-that leaps headlong into the malaise of contemporary existence.

Bruno and Michel are half-brothers abandoned by their mother, an unabashed devotee of the drugged-out free-love world of the sixties. Bruno, the older, has become a r
Paperback, 272 pages
Published November 13th 2001 by Vintage (first published August 24th 1998)
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David I second The Map and the Territory. It's not quite Houellebecq Lite, but it's the least likely to offend. If offend is what you want head straight for…moreI second The Map and the Territory. It's not quite Houellebecq Lite, but it's the least likely to offend. If offend is what you want head straight for Atomised / The Elementary Particles.(less)

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Average rating 3.80  · 
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You can interpret this book in several different ways. A lot of people view it as a depressing, hate-filled rant, filled with a really startling amount of unpleasant sex. I'm not saying that that's necessarily incorrect. In fact, my immediate association was with the fictitious books that Moreland invents in one of the Anthony Powell novels: "Seated One Day at my Organ", by the author of "One Hundred Disagreeable Sexual Experiences". But I think there are more interesting ways of reading Les Par ...more
Aug 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, life-is-shit
"It's a curious idea to reproduce when you don't even like life."

It's rare to come across a book filled with so pure of hate. At first I thought maybe it's was just some good old fashioned misogyny, with maybe a little bit of nationalism and Arab hating thrown in, but then something curious happened, the whole of society got thrown into the hate-fest that is this book. Hippies? Hate them a lot. Italians? Yep, really hate them, we don't say why we just do. Nature? Fuck it!! Sex? Love it but hate
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Joshua Nomen-Mutatio by: brian
Shelves: fiction
Wow. What an incredible book. The Epilogue makes a huge difference in how one might view it on the whole. It certainly did for me. I was getting so depressed by the end that I almost chucked it aside around the 90% mark because I felt a panic attack coming on. But I took a deep breath and I switched up my reading soundtrack and I pushed on and am very glad that I did. The Epilogue really clarifies so much that precedes it. Leading up to that point it is basically 100% bleak, and I mean truly, tr ...more
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Robin by: Rob Squires
This book doesn't care if you read it.

It doesn't care if you buy it or borrow it, if you deface it, if you understand it, if you have the remotest interest in it.

It doesn't try to be liked. It's far, far, far, too cool for school.

French author Michel Houellebecq, not caring.

And when I say that, I do NOT mean it's "cool" in a positive way. I found half of it dry, aloof, and didactic - like reading a doctorate level physics textbook. It felt imperious and full of itself. It felt over my head. The
May 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Okay, I decided I would take a go at actually justifying my rating for this book, rather than just make half-hearted apologies at my preference for a so-absurdly misogynistic and, let's be frank, pornographic novel.

First of all, I like Houellebecq's unrelenting pessimism. It's far beyond nihlism - so more destructive and negative, so more emphatic in its rejection of bougeoise norms, of religion, culture, capitalism. This book (as well as the other Houellebecq I read, Platform) captures the ble
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary, outstanding, and absolutely not-to-be-missed*!

* "The Elementary Particles" holds you captive like only the best of 'em can. Think-- a long, cold autumn afternoon sipping coffee and reading "Never Let Me Go." Think-- Dan Brown# poolside. All of these experiences that could conceivably last one blissful, insatiable sitting (the novels that are not considered novellas, that is)-- this is one of 'em. The artistry is like a painting, the reading is like some immersive exercise that ble
Steven Godin
Daringly original and yes, ludicrously filthy!, but for anyone that thinks this is just three hundred and eighty pages of Masturbating, blow-jobs and debauchery your missing the point, as there are far more serious things going on here than spanking the monkey! and alike. Michel Houellebecq has written a work of great intelligence and maturity that is nihilistic in nature and immensely sad but was always compulsive reading. Concerning French half-brothers Michel and Bruno where the only thing th ...more
Years ago, I went out on a few dates with a French guy. He was rich and good looking (though, of course, way too short), and he seemed pretty smart but I never could bring myself to kiss him. He had this typically Gallic extreme snottiness that I found amusing, even endearing, but even as I enjoyed this I suspected that his disdain for everything non-French might indicate something a bit too dark for me. At a certain point I decided that he wasn't a regular charming misanthrope: I discerned that ...more
MJ Nicholls
The longueur of French academic life. The pain of being 40 and unfuckable. Something about quantum physics. It's all here in this eggheady gloom festival. ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
Jul 12, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: french, 2003
This book brought me to laughter. And this is not a compliment, but actually quite the opposite.
Every character here is monodimensional and unrealistic, while the story itself is ridicolous.

Blame me if you like, but after the tenth masturbation scene filled up with philosophical rubbish and Andre Gide quotes I've felt a big nausea coming up. And this malaise stayed with me till the end of the novel.

There are many novelists who have their own obsession for sex and some of them are consistently
Aug 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france, 2020-read
English: The Elementary Particles
More than 20 years after its initial publication, Houellebecq's classic is more timely than ever, as it addresses our inability to accept ambiguity and the effects of capitalism and social darwinism on human emotions - while he also explicitly writes about sex and plays with provocations and flashy images, Houellebecq is the anti-Marquis de Sade. In the book, half-brothers Bruno and Michel grow up as the neglected children of emotionally unavailable parents, and
Amrit Chima
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Gratuitous sex. For those who have read this book, it’s not a surprising initial comment. The sex in The Elementary Particles is graphic, drawn-out, and explicit. Yet the novel has such an intellectual draw that even at its most seemingly uncalled for, I believe Houellebecq had a purpose for it. Through the suffering of two brothers—Bruno whose libido is painfully (and often shamefully) intense, and Michel who has virtually no interest in sex—Houellebecq depicts mankind’s struggle with materiali ...more
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french
When the Middle Class Aspires to Cold Nihilism

Well, it seems there is hardly any point in contributing an other review, when so many people think "The Elementary Particles" ("Atomised" in the UK) is a "powerful," "unflinching" book. But it brought Houellebecq into the public eye and set the stage for his later books, so it's worth reconsidering.

I think it's weak: weaker than all of the models he attempts to emulate.

If you want genuine existential disorientation, read Sartre.

If you want intransi
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
The way Houellebecq combines science and sociology is amazingly intelligent and deliciously dizzying. Asexuality and sex addiction, the two offsprings of the sexual liberation of the 60s, are envisioned by the French author in a marriage whose fruit seems to be extremely... Nietzschean. I must admit I got completely carried away, while the trick he pullled in the epilogue had me looking for my mind cause yeah, I suddenly felt it missing.
Amazing stuff.
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites, fiction
Imagine a stylish French man, grumpily smoking a lung-shreddingly strong cigarette and repeating in his thick accent variations on the phrase ‘Life, she is shit’.

That is this novel, and author Michel Houellebecq is a dishevelled version of that Frenchman.

If you’ve read Whatever, or The possibility of an Island, or indeed any of Houellebecq’s work you know what a cheerless sourpuss he can be. His characters, inevitably middle aged Frenchmen, usually live lives of despair and ennui, (often mysogyn
Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-french
This is the second Houellebecq novel that I have read. Usually when I talk about why I like novels it usually has to do with the great characters that I identified with or the amazing plot or the entertaining action. Houellebecq provides none of these things. In fact, while I was reading this book, my daughter asked me what the book was about and I went uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

His characters are unhappy and disfunctional. Houellebecq's books create controversy to the point that he has ended up in co
Paul Bryant
A lot of this book consists of a tirade of hatred against the author's dear mama. Now finally, the 83 year old hippy herself has emerged from her retreat with all guns blazing. Hilarious article about the whole rancid argument here

Sample quote

"If it hadn't been my son, I wouldn't read that kind of crap, I would put it down straight away, because if there's one thing I detest in the world it's pornography. That book is pure pornography, it's repugnant, it's
No matter what he writes, Houellebecq generates controversy, and each of his books seem to be something else that leaves the impression on most readers. And it really is something else.. How could I classify his book ? Apparently, as one of sexual frustrations, but it would be incompletely said, because this is just the visible part, created by what we see and read. If, however, we have the skills to " ignore" the strong imprint of obsessive sexuality, we can approach this book from several angl ...more
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paris, france, fiction
Another author in that very French intellectual tradition which seems to confuse being cynical with being profound. The basic thesis is that humans are risible and worthy of our hatred, and that interpersonal relationships are a despicable delusion. Some of this is illustrated with neatly-done set pieces, other parts are more didactic. The novel shows a consistent disgust for human bodies and sexuality which I thought rather juvenile.

There are some moments of wit, but in general the prose style
Jun 26, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh God. I'm about half way through this book, which I picked up on a whim after finishing the excellent Blindness by Jose Saramago. I needed something else to read until I got a copy of Dave Eggers' What is the What, and this had got a lot of raves.

So far, I'm as close to tossing this book away unfinished as I have ever been. I almost always finish books, but this is just a chore.

As offensive as parts of it are (yes, yes, I'm supposed to be offended, and I can see the ambiguity about whether the
Feb 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lee Klein
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Damn! I've had this for years, only read it recently, wished I'd read it long ago. Totally brilliant. Purposefully vicious and perverted to make philosophical points about the unhappy state of humanity. Juxtaposition of many sagging labias and licked cocks (which sadly might turn idiots off) with mucho genetics-related philosophizing (which sadly might turn idiots off). A book about the achievement of utopia, sort of like Huxley's BNW and Island, which the book deals with. Another uber-pessimist ...more
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The universe is merely a chance arrangement of elementary particles. A transitory image in the midst of chaos. Which will end with the inevitable: the human race will disappear. Other races will appear, and disappear in turn. The heavens are cold and empty, traversed by the faint light of half-dead stars. Which, also, will disappear. Everything disappears. And human actions are just as random and senseless as the movements of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, fine sentiments? Pure “Vic ...more
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A delightful, frothy beach read.
Just kidding. This is a challenging, complex, daring, mind-blowing and beautiful novel. At times it reminded me of the films of Godard, at times of the novels of Richard Powers. In a word, brilliant.
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french-lit
I wanted to read a Michel Houellebecq book for awhile and after reading an excellent review by a Mexican GR friend, and seeing as my local library had this book, I finally succumbed to this acclaimed French author.

I must admit for some readers this may not be a good starting book. Even for myself, I was a little worried. Why? Well Houellebecq does have a reputation out there and for some, this is not for the faint of heart. And there is all the hoopla about his more recent novel Submission.

Rositsa Zlatilova
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-must
The Elementary Particles wasn’t an easy read – it required long breaks in between and an even longer walk after I finished it. The book put me in all possible moods – I cried and laughed and felt sad, then was ignorant and rude and then bearable again.

It tells the story about the last people on the planet who were so disconnected and dysfunctional that they saliently agreed to disappear or at least didn't bother to live as individuals any longer. Those people accumulated so much grief and emptin
Jan 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french
I just finished reading this book for my book club meeting tonight. I procrastinated hard, so I had to absorb it in a much shorter time than I would allow for other books. I do, however, have some thoughts: I don’t love the person I become as I read a Houellebecq novel. His narrators have the same aloof style as those of Murakami, but 10-20 times more cynical. It always feels as though I have stumbled onto the journal of a social outcast, a misanthrope, and that I am reading about his deepest, d ...more
Arwen Ungar
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
Both oddly engrossing and somehow also barely readable, Elementary Particles, like all of Houllebecq's narcissistic novels, focuses its aim on men solely obsessed with getting their aged and increasingly flaccid penises erect long enough to fulfill the characters' unending pedophiliac whims. This one is worse than The Possibility of an Island, which at least gave readers a few sci-fi reasons for the dystopian world. In the end, nearly both books arrive at the same end: humanity is doomed, filled ...more
I wasn't offended by this book, just bored by its relentless attempts to offend. ...more
Four Houellebecqs so far. Probably after one book, you'd have passed through the litmus test. You wouldn't pick the second one if you're repelled by the first one given that themes of his books stay same. Middle aged men brooding, sex, masturbation, decay of western civilization, Islam, self-loathing, suicide, social commentary etc. But this particular book, technically has around three hundred pages of masturbation used as a writing element than being just arousal or shock gimmick and MH is cle ...more
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Reading 1001: The Elementary Particles, by Michel Houellebecq 2 14 Oct 01, 2020 12:03PM  
Author's purpose 2 20 Oct 24, 2019 11:15AM  
Lietuva / Lithuania: M. Houellebecq "Elementariosios dalelės" - 2015 m. spalio mėn. knyga 15 75 Nov 05, 2015 01:49AM  

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Michel Houellebecq (born Michel Thomas), born 26 February 1958 (birth certificate) or 1956 on the French island of Réunion, is a controversial and award-winning French novelist. To admirers he is a writer in the tradition of literary provocation that reaches back to the Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire; to detractors he is a peddler, who writes vulgar sleazy literature to shock. His works though, pa ...more

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