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The Elementary Particles

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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 raucously promiscuous hedonist himself, while Michel is an emotionally dead molecular biologist wholly immersed in the solitude of his work. Each is ultimately offered a final chance at genuine love, and what unfolds is a brilliantly caustic and unpredictable tale.

272 pages, Paperback

First published August 24, 1998

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About the author

Michel Houellebecq

61 books6,947 followers
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, particularly Atomised, have received high praise from the French literary intelligentsia, with generally positive international critical response, Having written poetry and a biography of the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, he brought out his first novel Extension du domaine de la lutte in 1994. Les particules élémentaires followed in 1998 and Plateforme, in 2001. After a disastrous publicity tour for this book, which led to his being taken to court for inciting racial hatred, he went to Ireland to write. He currently resides in France, where he has been described as "France’s biggest literary export and, some say, greatest living writer". In 2010 he published La Carte et le Territoire (published the same year in English as The Map and the Territory) which won the prestigious Prix Goncourt; and, in 2015, Submission.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,832 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
January 17, 2010
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 Particules, which show that it's not as pointless as it first appears.

So, after considering it a while, I'd say that this is basically a book about sexual frustration. Bruno, the main character, has an extremely active libido, but is unfortunately not at all attractive; he's fat, ugly and lacks charm. He spends his days in a constant agony of unfulfilled desire. I recently read Hamsun's Hunger; the poor guy in Hamsun is broke and hungry, and no matter what he tries to think about he always comes back to money and food within a few minutes. Hamsun's very brave about showing how degrading this is for him. Bruno's plight is similar. He's not getting any sex, and that's all HE can think about. And in fact it's not unreasonable to argue that Houellebecq is being brave too in describing just how humiliating that is for him. The author could put it in general terms, or he could indirectly suggest it, but a detailed description of how Bruno masturbates over his algebra notes while watching girls on the train drives it home far more effectively:
Il prenait l'autorail de Crécy-la-Chapelle. Chaque fois que c'était possible (et c'était presque toujours possible), il s'installait en face d'une jeune fille seule. La plupart avaient les jambes croisées, une chemisier transparent, ou autre chose. Il ne s'installait vraiment en face, plûtot en diagonale, mais souvent sur la même banquette, à moins de deux mètres. Il bandait déjà en apercevant les longs cheveux, blonds ou bruns; en choisissant une place, en circulant entre les rangées, la douleur s'avivait dans son slip. Au moment de s'asseoir, il avait déjà sortit un mouchoir de sa poche. Il suffisait d'ouvrir un classeur, de le poser sur ses cuisses; en quelques coups c'était fait. Parfois, quand la fille décroissait les jambes au moment où il sortait sa bite, il n'avait même pas besoin de se toucher; il se libérait d'un jet en apercevant la petite culotte. La mouchoir était une sécurité, en général il éjaculait sur les pages du classeur: sur les équations de second degré, sur les schémas d'insectes, sur la production de charbon de l'URSS. La fille poursuivait la lecture de son magazine.
But why does Bruno feel this terrible, and what does it say about our society? Houellebecq has some interesting observations about how free-market economics have entered into people's personal lives; having also read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine in the near past, this resonated rather well. In the economic sphere, Klein argues persuasively that the logical long-term result is a world where Dick Cheney and his immediate circle of friends own almost everything, and a good 40% of the world owns nothing. In the sexual sphere, the corresponding long-term result is a world where no one really wants to fuck anybody except Scarlett Johansson or Megan Fox (depending on whether they prefer blondes or brunettes), and will not even consider fucking anyone who isn't young and thin.

Bruno exemplifies this horrible state of being; thwarted sexual desire has turned his life into a living hell, and Houellebecq is psychologically credible in showing how it progressively destroys him, making him hate everyone and everything. One interesting angle is that the book contrasts the materialistic world-view that has him in its jaws against the traditional Christian world-view. It's probably not an accident that, when Bruno does in the end meet a woman who truly loves him, she's called Christiane. Here's another example of how the graphic descriptions of sex are not as gratuitous as they first appear. Bruno has just spent a very happy week with Christiane, but must leave:
Bruno avait déjà plié sa tente et rangé ses affaires dans la voiture; il passa sa dernière nuit dans la caravane. Au matin, il essaya de pénétrer Christiane, mais cette fois il echoua, il se sentit ému et nerveux. "Joue sur moi" dit-elle. Elle étala le sperme sur son visage et sur ses seins. "Viens me voir" dit-elle encore une fois au moment où il passait la porte. Il promit de venir.
In a Brigade Mondaine novel, this would just be pornographic. Here, it comes across as a rather moving scene. I felt very sorry for poor Christiane; it was already clear that things couldn't possibly work out well.

The part of the novel I found least engaging was the thread that followed Michel, Bruno's half-brother. Instead of experiencing life as one long torment of desire, Michel hardly feels desire at all. He becomes a biophysicist, and eventually finds a way to create an immortal race of asexual beings, which duly replace humanity. I wasn't very convinced by any of this, partly because Houellebecq seems to be unaware that biologists have spent a lot of time wondering about why it is that sexual reproduction is a good idea. It's an interesting story, and deserves to be treated with more respect. I don't think, however, that we need to discuss whether Michel's idea makes scientific sense; I don't believe Houellbecq is seriously saying that we should find a way to evolve away from sex, any more than Brecht in The Tutor is seriously suggesting autocastration as a solution. He's just saying that the pain that sex and love cause people is such that you're willing to consider an extreme solution in order to escape from it.

Unfortunately, Houellebecq has loaded up with scientific buzzwords, but doesn't seem to have any deep understanding, and I found the quantum mechanics much more irritating than the pornography. For example, I suppose that all the references to the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen gedankenexperiment are intended to suggest that Bruno and Michel are inextricably bound together, quantum-entangled in fact; their mother is the source, Bruno and Michel are the two electrons. But if you insist on a quantum-mechanical metaphor, a particle/anti-particle pair seems both more obvious and easier to understand; invoking EPR is basically just too fucking clever. Which is a reasonable criticism of the whole book in fact.


I discovered yesterday evening that Les Particules is listed in 1001 Books To Read Before You Die. Well... I suppose I agree. Though I'm also warning you that it could significantly advance the date of your demise.

Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,875 followers
August 22, 2008
"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 it. French Intellectuals? Oh really fuck those guys, especially Deleuze, but make it clear we don't like any of those guys from the 60's. 1968? Hahahaha, fucking assholes. Children? Masterbation fodder, or else just more fucking people. Growing old? Really hate it. People lying to themselves that they aren't old? Hate them so much too. Hate hate hate hate hate.

It might not sound possible but this book might possibly hate everything, the author / narrator doesn't even seem to place himself in any kind of position where it seems like he would be saying 'oh look at all of these poor shits!! If only there were more people like me in the world, a race of me's!! And I'll call them super-men!!!" Nope, there is nothing Nietzschean here, rather it's all sort of the most pessimistic Kant imaginable. One were the ethics are based on total shit as an imperative.

But through all of this hate and the depressing feelings of the total waste of life we all are, and the simple fact that no one is going to be happy, it will elude us and the desire for happiness will only make us miserable; this book ends up being an interesting, and enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Guille.
784 reviews1,748 followers
October 21, 2022

“Es bueno que sea usted reaccionario. Todos los grandes escritores son reaccionarios Balzac, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Dostoievski, todos reaccionarios. Pero también hay que follar, ¿eh?”
Se comulgue o no con él, hay que reconocerle que nunca aburre, que dice cosas bastante interesantes y que lo hace de una forma sumamente atractiva.

Houellebecq, o los personajes de Houellebecq (no sé cuánto de todo lo que aquí se dice está en su pensamiento y qué parte es parodia de esta sociedad desquiciada que retrata, una ambigüedad que posiblemente sea buscada) empieza afirmando que la naturaleza es, en esencia, perversa y con una ingeniería genética francamente mejorable.
“En conjunto, la naturaleza salvaje era una porquería repugnante; en conjunto, la naturaleza salvaje justificaba una destrucción total, un holocausto universal; y la misión del hombre sobre la Tierra era, probablemente, ser el artífice de ese holocausto.”
Y entre toda la abyección de la naturaleza, es el hombre (y pienso que el autor no usa el sustantivo como genérico de ser humano) quién se lleva la palma: “Homo homini lupus”, algo totalmente verificable desde la niñez.
“La brutalidad y la dominación, corrientes en las sociedades animales, se ven acompañadas ya en los chimpancés (Pan troglodytes) por actos de crueldad gratuita hacia el animal más débil. Esta tendencia alcanza el máximo en las sociedades humanas primitivas, y entre los niños y adolescentes de las sociedades desarrolladas.”
Vamos, que el hombre nace malo y quién debería atemperar sus impulsos, la sociedad, los hace aún peores. Y a partir de aquí sale el Houellebecq más reaccionario, el que nos dice que es nuestra sociedad, la proveniente del pensamiento «progresista» de los años sesenta, setenta, ochenta y noventa, la que encumbró a la juventud en lo más alto de la pirámide social y destruyó los preciosos valores morales de las generaciones anteriores con su “afirmación integral de los derechos del individuo frente a todas las normas sociales, a todas las hipocresías que según ellos constituían la moral, el sentimiento, la justicia y la piedad”, acelerando así de forma irreversible el proceso de corrupción de esta sociedad que ya empezó mucho antes, cuando occidente eligió el camino equivocado, “sacrificándolo todo (su religión, su felicidad, sus esperanzas y, en definitiva, su vida) a esa necesidad de certeza racional”. La religión perdió su fuerza como fuente explicativa del mundo y “ninguna sociedad es viable sin el eje federador de una religión cualquiera”. Toma ya.
“En otras épocas el ruido de fondo lo constituía la espera del reino del Señor; hoy lo constituye la espera de la muerte. Así son las cosas.”
Dos mediohermanos son los encargados de encarnar estas ideas sobre la cultura «joven», que el autor identifica con sexo y violencia, y la devoción por la ciencia moderna que “conlleva la individuación, la vanidad, el odio y el deseo” y que devoran poco a poco a todos los seres que no tienen como evitar el ineludible camino de la invalidez, la enfermedad y la muerte. Ambos hermanos fueron abandonados por sus madres, quedándose al cuidado de sus abuelas, y pretenden ser la clara evidencia de las nefastas consecuencias del abandono de los valores y de la familia tradicional: uno está obsesionado con el sexo y es asquerosamente reaccionario, y el otro es prácticamente asexual y asentimental, con una visión fría, “mecánica y despiadada” de la vida. Ambos infelices, ambos desagradables a su modo.
“En todos los aspectos, control genético, libertad sexual, lucha contra el envejecimiento, cultura del ocio, Brave New World es para nosotros un paraíso, es exactamente el mundo que estamos intentando alcanzar…”
El sexo será el sustituto posible, que no gratificante, de un amor inalcanzable, y la belleza y la juventud sus condiciones necesarias. Es por eso que el terror a envejecer nunca ha sido más intenso y generalizado que en la actualidad. Ni la muerte es más temida que la vida en un cuerpo deteriorado o no deseado.
“… llegará un momento en que la suma de los placeres físicos que uno puede esperar de la vida sea inferior a la suma de los dolores… Este examen racional de placeres y dolores, que cada cual se ve empujado a hacer tarde o temprano, conduce inexorablemente a partir de cierta edad al suicidio.”
La mujer es quién más sufrirá este estado de cosas (“… viven muchos años y sufren mucho… Pero siguen adelante, porque no logran renunciar a ser amadas. Son víctimas de esta ilusión hasta el final. A partir de cierta edad, una mujer siempre tiene la posibilidad de frotarse contra una polla; pero ya no tiene la menor posibilidad de ser amada”), y las que con su liberación sexual fueron parte del problema (“Nunca he entendido a las feministas... En pocos años conseguían transformar a los tíos que tenían al lado en neuróticos impotentes y gruñones. Y en ese momento, era matemático, empezaban a tener nostalgia de la virilidad”). Pero no son las que salen peor paradas, de hecho, a la mujer, a un tipo concreto de mujer, la baña en piropos (dulces, amables, cariñosas, compasivas, razonables, inteligentes, trabajadoras…). De los hombres todo lo que resalta es malo: su grotesca vanidad, su irresponsabilidad, su violencia innata, los considera incapaces de amar y los acusa de conocer únicamente el deseo, “el deseo sexual en estado puro y la competición entre machos”. Solo hay que comparar a los dos personajes masculinos de la novela con sus sacrificadas parejas.

La solución a este estado de cosas… bueno, esa la dejaré para que la descubran ustedes. Por radical e inhumana que les parezca, posiblemente, de existir, la solución no esté muy alejada de la que él anticipa, lo que no es en absoluto descartable en un futuro no excesivamente lejano.

En fin, la novela me ha gustado, más que en mi lejana primera lectura. Aunque me ha escandalizado más de una vez con su incorrección política y su cinismo, que no con el sexo y la violencia sin ser poca, y aunque pienso que se equivoca muy mucho en algunas de sus afirmaciones, no en todas, me ha hecho reflexionar y, debo confesar, también me ha divertido con algunas de las patéticas escenas en la que mete a sus protagonistas: le añado una estrellita a mi anterior puntuación.
Profile Image for Joshua Nomen-Mutatio.
333 reviews891 followers
February 16, 2013
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, truly bleak--though extremely interesting and entertaining every step of the way.

There's a fair amount of gross sexual stuff along the way as well, but it's always presented in a detached, rather ungleeful way, and as such it has a point beyond mere shock and/or titillation that fully justifies its presence. To say this book is just about sexual frustration is to hugely miss the point. This is a BIG PICTURE book but carried out through a tightly crafted narrative mainly surrounding two brothers birthed from a massively disfunctional genetic pool with one shared parent: a terminally miserable, often nauseatingly sexually deviant literature professor named Bruno and a largely emotionless but harmless microbiologist in deep almost inhuman isolation named Michel.

The book covers so many subjects that I'm sort of dumbfounded and slow to begin relaying them all. Existential, cultural, scientific, philosophical, historical, etc. Consciousness, genetics, sex, death, physics, religion, cruelty, love, parenthood, childhood, adulthood, happiness, suffering, etc.

Despite the often searing and pitiless slings and arrows thrown at humanity, I think it is also a book that is deeply sympathetic to the desperate flailing, the absurd flaws, and the open wounds of humanity, self-inflicted and otherwise. Its final sentence is a straight up dedication to humankind, despite its many detailed failures and sufferings and defects, and despite the claim that a new and improved species must take its place.

I was holding a solid four star rating of this in my head until the final leg of the journey, around Section Three and the Epilogue. So if any readers who take my opinions as any sort of guide end up having trouble with it along the way, I implore them to press on.
April 9, 2017
(Η κριτική περιέχει ενύπνια ψιχία αποκαλύψεων πλοκής).

Ο κλονισμός των κλωνοποιημένων
•Θα μπορούσαμε να πούμε ότι συνολικά 12 σωματίδια αποτελούν τους βασικούς δομικούς λίθους του σύμπαντος, από τη γέννησή του μέχρι σήμερα. Όχι ακριβώς! Η σύγχρονη θεωρία που περιγράφει τον μικρόκοσμο, η κβαντομηχανική,  προβλέπει (και έχει αποδειχθεί πειραματικά) την ύπαρξη του αντισωματίδιου: σε κάθε σωματίδιο αντιστοιχεί άλλο ένα, με ίδια μάζα και αντίθετο ηλεκτρικό φορτίο. Ετσι ο συνολικός αριθμός των σωματιδίων διπλασιάζεται•

Ο θηλυκός
"νέος Ωραίος Κόσμος" είναι το όραμα του Ουελμπέκ ως μια θαυμαστή και τρομακτική ουτοπία.

Οι φυσικές μεταλλάξεις που αλλάζουν τον κόσμο μέσα στη διάρκεια της ιστορίας φτάνουν στο τρίτο μεταλλαγμένο κοινωνιολογικό πρότυπο.
Εδώ επικρατεί ο ατομικισμός και η υλιστική μίζερη κυριαρχία.
Πρέπει να εξαλειφθούν απαραιτήτως για να εξελιχθεί η ανθρώπινη οντότητα προς την ευδαιμονία και την τελειότητα.
Μοναδικό όπλο η επιστημονική κορύφωση της γενετικής.
Θα πρέπει να αποφασιστεί συνειδητά απο το ανθρώπινο γένος να αλλάξει ριζικά και μη αναστρέψιμα τα ατομικά συμφέροντα και το γνωστό και "φυσικό" τρόπο αναπαραγωγής.

Έτσι, αυτοβούλως όλοι οι άνθρωποι θα είναι αδέλφια... βιολογικά,πανομοιότυπα αδέλφια και συναισθηματικά..μόνο η αγάπη θα επικρατεί ανάμεσα τους. Όλοι ίδιοι.
Όλοι μεταλλαγμένα τέλειοι. Όλοι ένα γένος. Όλοι πραγματικά ενοχοποιημένοι και τέλεια κλονισμένοι ομοζυγωτικοί κλώνοι.

Η επιστημονική εξέλιξη φτάνει στη θεοποίηση με εφιαλτική κατάληξη.

Πανοραμικά κατεδαφίζεται ο δυτικός πολιτισμός. Εξαλείφεται η θρησκευτική ηθική και τα κοινωνικά πρότυπα.
Η ανδρική υπόσταση δέχεται τορπίλες ηδονικού εξευτελισμού.
Καταγγέλονται σαρκαστικά και καυστικά οι κοινωνίες των φιλελεύθερων οικονομιών και της αχαλίνωτης σεξουαλικής απελευθέρωσης ως καταστροφικές για τον δυτικό κόσμο του 20ου αιώνα.

Σύμφωνα με τον μάλλον τρομαγμένο και μοναχικά ευαίσθητο συγγραφέα αυτός ο κόσμος οφείλει να αντικατασταθεί απο τις μελλοντικές οντότητες
αφού οι παρελθοντικοί άνθρωποι που επέφεραν τον εκμαυλισμό των πάντων πρέπει να αντικατασταθούν απο τη μοριακή βιολογία της εθελούσιας αυτοκαταστροφικής κάθαρσης.

Ως τώρα,επικράτησε η σοσιαλιστική κοινωνία των ρατσιστών,των αντιοικολόγων,των λίγων που απολαμβάνουν τα πολλά και των πολλών που αρκούνται στα λίγα.
Παραφυάδες της γενιάς του '68 οι μειονότητες έχουν έντονη ερωτική ζωή και αχαλίνωτες ηθικά και σωματικά ηδονές και απολαύσεις. Έχουν εξουσία και απολαμβάνουν τα αγαθά ως κληρονομικό χάρισμα.

Αντίθετα η πλειοψηφία ξεσπάει στην πορνογραφία, τη στέρηση, την αυτοϊκανοποίηση και την υλική ανέχεια.

Βασικό χαρακτηριστικό είναι κατανομή της ηδονής.

Απο τη μια,η κουλτούρα της σεξουαλικής απελευθέρωσης με προϊόντα χίπικης φιλοσοφίας και φεμινισμού οδηγεί σε κάμπινγκ- παραθεριστικά θέρετρα και "εναλλακτικές"διακοπές όπου επικρατεί το ιδεώδες "γ@@@@ε εαυτούς και αλλήλους" χωρίς αύριο.

Και απο την άλλη η ασεξουαλικότητα,ο αυνανισμός και πορνογραφία ηθών και μέσων επιβίωσης. Εδώ βασιλεύει η αυτοϊκανοποίηση και όποιος αντέξει...

Και οι δυο παραπάνω κατηγορίες κοινωνικής μορφής είναι κατά συνέπεια δυστυχισμένες. Απομόνωση.
Έλλειψη επικοινωνίας. Μοναξιά.
Μιζέρια. Γερασμένα ψυχικά κορμιά. Ατομικισμός. Ματαιοδοξία. Υλιστική εξάρτηση. Έλλειψη ελπίδας. Γηρατειά. Θάνατος.

Τα αδιέξοδα του σύγχρονου ανθρώπου θα τα λύσει το όραμα του θηλυκού ωραίου κόσμου μέσω των "στοιχειωδών σωματιδίων" και τη νέα εξελιγμένη γενετική.

Το "άτομο" γίνεται θεός και αυτό το βιβλίο πέρα απο τον κυνισμό και την εφιαλτικά ρεαλιστική ωμότητα, είναι σύμφωνα με τον Ουελμπέκ αφιερωμένο στον Άνθρωπο.

Καλή ανάγνωση!
Πολλούς ασπασμούς!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews984 followers
September 15, 2022
This, the 'nasty writer' Michel Houellebecq's second book caused a stir. Me? I think it's great attacking/critiquing all - men, women, authority, the Right, the Left, New Agers, religion etc. no stone is left unturned, nothing is scared, in this tale of two half brothers having mid-life crisis as they see the world around them leaving them behind.

This is questionably an indelicate take on some of the causes of the disassociation of older White men and the ever changing modernising world? Some have called Houellebecq France's greatest living writer, I would concur! 8 out of 12... up from 3 and 2 out of 12 from my first 2 readings!

2018 read; 2012 read; 2007 read
Profile Image for Adina .
890 reviews3,544 followers
July 28, 2022
Recently, I’ve been throwing 5* at the feet of a few French classics. However, I am not so lucky when it comes to contemporary French Literature. The Elementary Particles joins Beigbeder and Hervé Le Tellier on the DNF shelf.

It’s been a while since I gave up the struggle so my reasons for not enjoying this novel are a bit blurry. Well, I remember thinking: “This book is nasty”. The main characters are two half-brothers who managed to be also two horrible sexually frustrated men. There is quite a bit of obsessive sex in this novel, which is not usually a problem but the Sardonic way the author wrote about the subject put me off. This is another existentialism novel where the characters are quite incapable to have normal relationships. In the end, despite the subject, I could have enjoyed it if the writing were to my liking. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,726 followers
July 13, 2019
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 other half of it was full of somewhat shocking sexual debauchery that would be at home in a de Sade story. Lots of public masturbation, orgies, and licking various people in various places. Lots and lots of licking.

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me Houellebecq was inspired by the Marquis de Sade, whose writings similarly alternate between long, philosophical rants and naughty Libertine caprices. De Sade, though, I have to say, has a far more charming delivery.

The Elementary Particles follows two brothers Michel (the asexual scientist) and Bruno (the pervert) through their dreary childhoods and then their calamitous personal relationships. The story does contain promising hints of something alive (their mother was a free spirited hippie who spent time at a commune that her son later revisited) but it never quite got there, for me. It was all trapped in a test tube, handled by hands wearing latex gloves. A "glacial reticence" - the brothers' inability to love - is infused in this text.

I'm not too sure what to make of his attitude toward women, who he says are superior but who live unhappily until he kills them off.

At the end of the day, it's a far less interesting version of L'Étranger with a similar dose of existentialism, bleakness and distain for human relationships. This story rarely pulled me in, mainly because of the detached writing style which often resorted to the all-knowing narrator popping up in the midst of a somewhat interesting narrative to say what would happen in 15 years, or what happened 15 years previously. Then, using the boring device of either scientific or news articles, would fill in the story rather than letting the readers experience it. (Show, Don't Tell is such a basic rule in the writing world but apparently Michel Houellebecq didn't get the memo.)

That all said, I could be completely wrong about this book. And that's okay, because it really doesn't care what I think - it's all meaningless anyway, right?


In the interest of fairness, please also look at Manny's review. He does a better job than I at explaining what this book is about. Houellebecq using sexuality (Western Society's sick obsession with the quick fix) as an illustration for materialism is an interesting idea, even if it is mind-blowingly depressing.
Profile Image for sarah.
11 reviews107 followers
July 18, 2007
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 bleak purposeless of modern life better than almost anything I can think of. As a recent college grad who for the first time in her life finds herself waking at 7:30 am each morning so she can go plug herself in to the grinding mechanics of capitalism; someone whose weekends consist of the churn of drunk-hungover-drunk-hungover, who struggles to find meaning in music, beauty, sex, religion, whatever -- I can relate to this. The emotionally unavailable scientist. The absolutely pathetic, lonely, sex-addicted failure. The petty, worthless little bureaucrat in Platform. I'm not, you know, depressed or anything, but I can share at least in some part their view of the world as bleak, lonely, and irredeemable except through very brief moments of relieved pain via drinking and sex.

Secondly, the book is darkly funny. Not amateurish darkly funny, because, I mean, this book is dark. The things in it that are funny are the things that have to do with the inevitability of death, the pointlessness of life, the drive for sex that is unsatisfied in pathetic, heartbreakingly inadequate losers -- are you cracking up yet? If not, you might not get it. The humor is subtle, and when I first read this book (in the original French), I missed a lot of the humor. But the humor is there - the question is whether or not the reader is capable of appreciating it. One of those laugh-if-you-don't-want-to-cry things.

Thirdly -- okay, yes, the book is misogynistic, maybe kind of racist, certainly anti-religion -- but at least Houellebecq is fair. His hatred with modern society is pretty blindly applied. The men in this book aren't exactly great upstanding characters, either, you know?

So, there you go : like I said, don't go telling the feminist sisterhood or my mom that I enjoyed this book. But if you're looking for some dark, high-brow pornography, and you have a strong stomach, this might be a good choice for you.
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
December 28, 2018
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 blends sex with study of molecular biology in new and intelligent ways. The two brothers are separated entities who belong to the same sphere of humanity. It is elegant & very very smart. Mr. Houellebecq, sir: I am your devoted FAN (I drag my gory knees on the ground, en route to the basilica of French Modern Literature-- a palace of gleaming rubies that reaches toward the bright summer sky)!!!

# This type of novel, this quality of work, inspires me to even mention Dan Brown. I mean, yeah... Dan Brown. I make reference to him with a smile--a vibrant optimism afforded only by the likes of wizards like Houellebecq!
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,492 reviews2,373 followers
February 21, 2023

Original. Extraordinary. Daringly provocative. Ludicrously filthy—I didn't think it felt juvenile when it came to the sex at all, but that's just me.It's miserable and nihilistic and full of loneliness but does with a sense of humour. Some will hate it and want to piss on it, others will love it—I'm the latter. For those that take nothing out of it other than three- hundred and eighty pages of furious masturbating, blow-jobs and debauchery then you're not digging deep enough; there are far more serious things going on here than simply spanking the monkey and alike. There is life and death shit going on here. Michel Houellebecq has written a work of great intelligence; almost like a pervy anacademic sociologist writing a novel, concerning French half-brothers Michel and Bruno where the only thing they have in common is the same mother and melancholia. Libertine Bruno is a sexually frustrated middle age individual who although ashamed of his body can't keep his hands of himself weather that be in public or private, while life for Michel has been a success to a point, a molecular biologist who is a clever idealist but has about as much sex drive as a castrated monk. With flashbacks from childhood to the teen years and then grown men we follow not only the two through a demoralising life filled with a strong sense of failure but also for relationships, culture, and the destruction of contemporary society. And it's here that Houellebecq drives his message home with a deep and meaningful account fused with metaphysical musings on the passage of change; of Bourgeois capitalist alienation; of the ultimate pressures of finding a place to exist in modern times. Compulsive reading. I was genuinely moved by this novel at times. One of the best things to come out of France for ages.
Profile Image for Lorenzo Berardi.
Author 3 books236 followers
September 25, 2014
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 good such as Philip Roth and Ian McEwan; Michel Houellebecq, in my humble opinion, is not.

PS: Review corrected and re-edited in September 2014.
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,365 followers
January 5, 2013
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 he hated Muslims, black people, and homosexuals even more than he hated everyone else, and so I didn't go out with him again.

That French guy was a big fan of Michel Houllebecq.

At the time, I wondered for a moment why I find generalized misanthropy acceptable -- even kind of charming -- but felt more specifically targeted hatreds were completely repellant. I mean of course I understand why I think that, but how rational is it? Why is hating fewer people not okay, while hating everyone is fine?

Again, of course I understand why that's the case, but it is a little funny... Anyway, this train of thought doesn't have much to do with this book, except that maybe it does relate to the French and the way that they think about people. But I don't know much about them as a culture, and therefore won't generalize here.

I was so into the first half of The Elementary Particles that it made me feel terrible in that amazing hedonistic I-hate-myself-for-loving-you way that top-shelf Martin Amis brings on. This book has a lot in common with St. Aubyn's The Patrick Melrose Novels (which I never got around to reviewing properly) both in that it's about the extraordinarily fucked-up children of wealthy Europeans, and that it degenerates somewhat into overly expository and transparently philosophical fake monologues later on in the book. In other words, I was obsessively entranced by the first half, and the second half was just okay.

My favorite thing about The Elementary Particles was the way that it would constantly pull back from the story of its characters to tie their experiences to generalized historical and biological trends. This is what fiction is, and how it works, and I love seeing it spelled out like that. This book is about two half brothers with a terrible mom, and tries to describe and comment on massive transformations in human life and experience. For the most part, I think it did do a pretty good job, though I'm not sure I agree with its arguments and conclusions.

Again, I really loved the first half of this book, though I didn't think the second half was as good. I'd be embarrassed to recommend it to most people, based on its graphic sexual content and bleak view of human relations, though if I were honest I'd admit I think he's got a lot right.

I think, based on this book, that Houllebecq wrestles with a lot of the questions most significant to the time we're upon. He does this wrestling in a way that might not be palatable to all, and while I find this compelling I haven't yet decided if I'll go out with him again.
Profile Image for Eliasdgian.
413 reviews116 followers
September 30, 2018
Σαν τα στοιχειώδη σωματίδια οι ζωές μας. Αυθυπόστατες, αποτελούν τα δομικά υλικά κάθε ευρύτερης βιο-κοινωνικής ομάδας, συγκροτώντας μεγαλύτερες δομές, όπως, καταρχήν, την οικογένεια, το κύτταρο της κοινωνίας.

Γεννιόμαστε. Μοναδικοί και μόνοι. Όπως τα στοιχειώδη σωματίδια τις πρώτες ημέρες της δημιουργίας. Εντασσόμαστε σε μια οικογένεια, αν υπάρχει, δημιουργώντας μια πιο σύνθετη δομή, εντός της οποίας αλληλεπιδρούμε με στοιχειώδη σωματίδια άλλα, τους γονείς και τ’ αδέλφια μας, ανθρώπους τόσο διαφορετικούς αλλά και τόσο ίδιους με εμάς. Υπομένουμε τον κόσμο που οι ενήλικοι έφτιαξαν για χάρη μας και προσπαθούμε να προσαρμοστούμε όσο το δυνατόν καλύτερα (στη συνέχεια, συνήθως τον αναπαράγουμε). Πηγαίνουμε σχολείο, δημιουργούμε καινούργιους πυρήνες, μεγαλώνουμε, κάνουμε σχέσεις, δεσμούς, που ενίοτε διαρρηγνύουμε. Αλλά και πάλι, κουβαλώντας στις αποσκευές μας το δικό μας ηλεκτρικό φορτίο (συναισθήματα, θύμησες), αναζητούμε νέες συνδέσεις∙ καινούργια δομικά υλικά, άγνωστες μέχρι πρότινος ζωές, πιο ζεσ��ές αγκαλιές. Κι έτσι φεύγει η ζωή και χάνεται και δε γυρίζει, φως μου.

Μέσα από την αφήγηση της ταραχώδους ζωής δύο ετεροθαλών αδελφών (που δεν γνωρίζονται εξαρχής μεταξύ τους και θα συναντηθούν για πρώτη φορά στο τέλος των μαθητικών τους χρόνων), ο Michel Houellebecq διηγείται την πορεία του δυτικού ανθρώπου στο λυκόφως του εικοστού αιώνα. Ενός ανθρώπου που περιδιαβαίνει, μόνος συνήθως, σ’ έναν κόσμο που διαρκώς μεταβάλλεται. Χωρίς οικογένεια και φίλους, άρα χωρίς σταθερές, οι ήρωες του βιβλίου δυσκολεύονται με τις ανθρώπινες σχέσεις, τα συναισθήματά τους, την ερωτική τους ζωή. Ο ένας (Μισέλ), επικεντρωμένος στην επιστήμη του, δείχνει ανίκανος ν’ αγαπήσει, ο άλλος (Μπρουνό) επιζητά μανιωδώς τις ηδονές. Ένας σεξουαλικά καταπιεσμένος άνθρωπος κι ένας σχεδόν σεξομανής συνθέτουν τις δύο όψεις του νομίσματος της σεξουαλικότητας του σύγχρονου (δυτικού) ανθρώπου σ’ ένα σύμπαν παρηκμασμένο, «σ’ έναν οδυνηρό κόσμο ανταγωνισμού και πάλης, ματαιοδοξίας και βίας», όπου αξίες όπως η αγάπη, η αλληλοκατανόηση κι ο αλληλοσεβασμός φαντάζουν αδόκιμες.

Τα ‘στοιχειώδη σωματίδια’ του συγγραφικού έργου του Michel Houellebecq δεν θα μπορούσαν, προφανώς, να λείπουν από το magnum opus του. Σεξουαλικές συνευρέσεις που περιγράφονται με την παραμικρή δυνατή λεπτομέρεια, απόψεις που διατυπώνονται σχεδόν αφοριστικά, κι ένας κυνισμός (ρεαλισμός) άνευ προηγουμένου. Αλλά και μια βαθιά φιλοσοφική κριτική θεώρηση της σύγχρονης κοινωνίας, ικανή να ‘αποκαταστήσει’ τον (παρεξηγημένο από πολλούς) συγγραφέα στα μάτια που πιο επιφυλακτικού αναγνώστη, ωθώντας τον τελευταίο στα ράφια του πιο κοντινού βιβλιοπωλείου/βιβλιοθήκης για το επόμενο (αδιάβαστο) βιβλίο του Ουελμπέκ.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book936 followers
May 8, 2020
Ceci est le deuxième roman de Michel Houellebecq, paru en 1998, quatre ans après Extension du domaine de la lutte. Il causa alors un vif émoi dans les cercles littéraires français et valu à son auteur une célébrité qu’il a conservée jusqu’à ce jour. Le scandale provoqué à l’époque est sans doute attribuable aux nombreuses scènes pornographiques très détaillées qui parsèment le récit.

Mais, si ces descriptions rendent la lecture assez piquante, elles prennent leur place dans une longue chronique de la vie des quatre personnages principaux, dans les dernières années du XXème siècle : Michel, chercheur en biologie moléculaire, qui semble incapable d’aimer et d’être heureux ; Bruno, son demi-frère, professeur de littérature, laid et obsédé sexuel (après avoir subi des sévices sexuels durant son enfance) ; Christiane, l’amie de Bruno, qui partage son goût des partouses ; Annabelle, l’ancienne petite amie de Michel, qui se rend compte trop tard qu’elle l’aime toujours et a raté sa vie… Ces différentes aventures sont souvent relatées après-coup, de manière passablement détachée ou désabusée, lors de conversations de fin de repas entre les différents protagonistes, et émaillées de commentaires divers, d’ordre sociologique ou philosophique (parfois pseudo-scientifique, dans le cas de Michel), sur les difficultés de l’existence humaine, la misère sexuelle ou sur la décadence de la civilisation occidentale après la “mort de Dieu”. Ces récits emboités rappellent un peu la structure des Mille et Une Nuits ; l'alternance entre scènes sexuelles et réflexions philosophiques, la Justine de Sade.

L’épilogue du roman constitue une surprise, dans la mesure où l’on découvre que les vies malheureuses de ces personnages (qui finissent tous par se suicider, de manière réelle ou symbolique) sont en réalité prises dans un récit-cadre, rendant un curieux hommage à l’humanité, plusieurs décennies plus tard, alors que les hommes ont disparu de la surface de la planète. Cette ouverture sur le mode de la science-fiction annonce les développements de La Possibilité d'une île, la fin de La carte et le territoire (et m’a rappelé aussi le dispositif final de The Handmaid's Tale de Margaret Atwood, lui-même inspire de l’épilogue de 1984). Reste que le sentiment général laissé par la lecture de ce livre est celle d’une grande tristesse et d’une nostalgie pour un monde où l’amour, le bonheur, la douceur seraient encore possibles.
Profile Image for Amrit Chima.
Author 1 book37 followers
January 18, 2015
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 materialism and individualism. Our bodies, driven by animalistic desires that translate into religious or spiritual disgrace, only cause suffering. Thus through sex we humiliate and are humiliated. Moments of beauty and insight do exist, but they are rare and fleeting, and as a result, sad.

This viewpoint is only strengthened (and by degrees, humanity’s suffering as well) by means of the cultural ideologies that have sprung from the US and spread globally. Materialism specifically—the chasm of need instilled within people who then feel inferior because of genes, the natural process of aging, economic position, etc.—has doomed us to depression, hate, and murder. For society to function, for competition to continue, people have to want more and more, until desire fills their lives and finally devours them. No longer evolving, indeed humanity is devolving as a result: ...materialism was antithetical to humanism and would eventually destroy it. And through our increasing needs and desires, we come to view ourselves as separate from each other, dislodged and unconnected spiritually, heightening our anguish.

Many reviewers claim that this work is highly misogynistic, however, Houellebecq clearly laments humanity’s treatment of women. He juxtaposes the ridiculous, base, violent, and selfish nature of man’s sexual urges and tendencies with the softness and exquisiteness of a woman’s touch, both physical and emotional. Bruno only reaches some measure of happiness in life by means of a woman who shows him how to accept and respect his body and sexual needs without judgment, by introducing him to communities in which the sex act is honored. Without her he cannot sustain the joy of his being. Houellebecq also compares a man’s inability to love with a woman’s boundless and unselfish devotion. Michel, emotionally dead, is nonetheless able to recognize that love does in fact exist by means of a pure woman who loves him unconditionally. It is only through the women in the novel that sex, love, and spirituality are seen as one. To enjoy the act of sex, to love through it, is a purity men cannot seem to achieve on their own.

What on earth were men for, Michel wondered as he watched sunlight play across the curtains. In earlier times, when bears were more common, perhaps masculinity served a particular and irreplaceable function, but for centuries now men clearly served no useful purpose. For the most part they assuaged their boredom playing tennis, which was a lesser evil; but from time to time they felt the need to change history—which basically meant inciting revolutions or wars. Aside from the senseless suffering they caused, revolutions and wars destroyed the best of the past, forcing societies to rebuild from scratch. Without regular and continuous progress, human evolution took random, irregular and violent turns for which men—with the predilection for risk and danger, their repulsive egotism, their irresponsibility and their violent tendencies—were directly to blame. A world of women would be immeasurably superior, tracing a slower but unwavering progression, with no U-turns and no chaotic insecurity, toward a general happiness.

Unable to recognize our own divinity and perfection (an idea explored through notions of metaphysics), Houellebecq also states that man, as a species, is not equipped to cope with death. Mired in materialism and individualism, we view death only as an end, never a beginning, always a loss. Grief pulls us downward into that ever-widening chasm of need until we disappear. Sometimes we can feel the universe vibrate in nature—the water, trees, and sky. In these moments, nature is infinitely beautiful and graceful. But that iota of awareness plunges us into greater depression when it is lost. Buddhism teaches us that nothing is permanent, that the material world is always changing. The more we hold to our youth, to a strict sense of individualism, to life itself and the objects we accumulate, the more painful our existence.

Terrified of the idea of space, human beings curl up; they feel cold, they feel afraid. At best, they move in space and greet one another sadly. And yet this space is within them, it is nothing but their mental creation. In this space of which they are so afraid, human beings learn how to live and to die; in their mental space, separation, distance and suffering are born.

There is an aching, quiet beauty to Houellebecq’s narrative that makes it difficult for me to disagree with him. And though he does introduce a sort of twisted and intelligent hope by the end, it is not reassuring. Still, he is asking us to face truths about ourselves, about our history as a species that are critical to examine, but that we so often would rather overlook.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,589 reviews2,813 followers
June 5, 2020
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 while Bruno first battles sexual rejection and then tries to find solace in debauchery, Michel is never really able to understand his own sexuality. Needless to say, both brothers are emotionally stifled, and while one turns mad, the other one reaches scientific conclusions that will transform the world into a place without fears and needs - you decide whether that's a utopia or a dystopia (hello, Nicola Barker's experimental masterpiece H(A)PPY).

Looking at The 120 Days of Sodom, the Marquis de Sade tried to push boundaries in order to first identify and then cross them, consciosuly at the expense of, yes, victims, many of them children. Houellebecq does not perceive that kind of transgression as complete freedom; rather, he sees the world as a cruel place and mourns a lack of compassion by portraying human loneliness and growing alienation fueled by technology and capitalism. His thesis in "The Elementary Particles" is that people can't deal with uncertainty and that they battle for superiority, that postmodern ideas like new age and sexual liberation are not able to overcome the forces they are declaring to fight and simply cement them in another form. There is no way out, and that's what makes this author so painful to read.

And that's also where the urgent modernity of Houellebecq is situated: This books ridicules ideas like mindfulness and self-actualization as particular forms of vanity and ultimately cruelty, and the emptiness the author portrays is reminiscent of Leif Randt's brilliant Allegro Pastell, published in 2020. Houellebecq has written about incels before the term even existed, and he also discusses the human longing for the sublime, the mystical, the inexplicable (insert here 1,000 recent perversions of this longing that we are currently witnessing).

Does all of that mean that Houellebecq is a reactionary, that he believes that in the past, the world was a better place? Nope, it's even worse: For him, people have always been terrible, and in a way, they know it which is why they are willingly attempting to destroy themselves to escape their situation. And yes, this author is using crass imagery, provocative language, difficult characters, stark language, and brutal narratives. And yes, I do not always agree with him, the way he chooses to make his statements and the ambiguity he employs to create outrage. But this is one of the most important author's working today, and he makes some excellent points worth contemplating.

So if you are easily offended or struggling to decode characters as literary devices that serve a complex purpose (so they are not identical with the author, and also do not directly ventilate the author's positions), do not read Houellebecq, because you will be, well, triggered. But if you like transgressive, challenging literature, Michel is your guy. If you'd like to learn more about the book, check out our podcast episode (in German).
Profile Image for Jim Elkins.
334 reviews355 followers
March 23, 2022
When the Middle Class Aspires to Cold Nihilism

Well, it seems there is hardly any point in contributing another 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 weaker than several of the models it attempts to emulate. If you want genuine existential disorientation, read Sartre. If you want intransigent, pithecoid hatred of the human condition, read Celine. If you want a book that actually doesn't flinch in regarding death, try "Everyman." If you want a protracted imaginative ventroliquism of motionless despair (like Michel's in this book), read "The Unnameable." If you want raw, repetitive, compulsive, unsatisfying sexual excess, read de Sade. (Or Cathy Acker.) If you want the thrill of a science-fiction ending in which humans are regarded as wonderful but primitive things of a happily discarded past, watch "Star Trek."

Houellebecq's book is is a pastiche of those authors, along with pinches of Sollers, Camus, and Artaud, and many sidelong (and nervous) glances at Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, whom he can't quite bring himself to openly emulate, possibly because then he couldn't continue to be interested in middle-class values. The philosophizing asides are replete with clichés, and the supposedly astonishing scientific passages are cobbled from popular magazines. If you find this novel shocking, you might consider just how immersed in the "endless middle classes" you really are: this is café existentialism, a commonplace in popular fiction.

It's not difficult to imagine Houellebecq's ideal reader: for such a person, this book is invigorating, challenging, rude, honest, and brutal. It's ambitious because he isn't just "shooting rabbits," as the delightful blurb on the back of the UK edition puts it. He's after "big game." That means the book is larded with observations about the decades from the 1940s to the present, their movies, lifestyles, music, politics, sex, and economics. The ideal reader would find these to be both nostalgic and informative. They are intended to give the book scope, make it more like Hugo, Buddenbrooks, or "Giant" than an ordinary family story. Mailer, Amis, and many others tried the same strategy.

But if you're not convinced by the intrusion of a voice from television documentaries, if you're not shocked by stories about snuff films, boys molesting other boys, or characters endlessly jerking off (I wonder how many orgasms there are in the book: one per page?), if you're not surprised that people are at root damaged, selfish, sexually-driven cowards, then this book won't be illuminating or expressive.

Houellebecq could write a strong novel, if he would allow himself to write the excoriating racist screeds that he attributes to one of his two principal characters. (I think he has written that kind of prose: I bet that the excerpts in this book are from his own early manuscripts.) A "strong novel" in this sense is not "Submission," which hedges its positions and toys with extreme views that it can't quite bring itself to openly embrace.
Profile Image for Ilenia Zodiaco.
267 reviews14k followers
February 3, 2022
"Quando non possono ottenere il cibo desiderato, i piccioni (Columba Livia) beccano ripetutamente il terreno, anche qualora sul terreno non si trovi alcun oggetto commestibile. Oltre ad abbandonarsi a questo beccare indiscriminato, essi si danno anche a un frenetico lisciamento delle penne; tale comportamento insensato, frequente nelle situazioni che implichino frustrazione o conflitto, viene definito attività di sostituzione".

E questo è più o meno il nocciolo di quello che Houellebecq pensa della bestia umana.
Un deprimente affresco delle conseguenze del desiderio sulla società occidentale attraverso il ritratto di due fratelli: uno che gli cede completamente, diventandone schiavo (Bruno); l'altro che rinuncia al desiderio, sognando un oltre-uomo affrancato completamente dai rituali socio-sessuali (Michel). Due esistenze speculari: una lasciva e depravata, l'altra anodina e astratta in un mondo di puro raziocinio.

Come tutti i libri che hanno come soggetto il mostruoso, è affascinante, oltre che filosoficamente provocatorio nel descrivere i prodotti desolanti della società liberista: dalla frustrazione sessuale al consumismo, dall'atomizzazione della società fino all'appiattimento a desideri posticci di vanità e immortalità di plastica.

Dal punto di vista narrativo, invece è debole e noioso. Sembra che l'autore sia così disgustato dall'umanità da non credere che valga la pena dedicargli una storia. L'empatia è volutamente esclusa dal romanzo. C'è un determinismo ineluttabile, un odio profondo e un vuoto siderale tra le pagine di questo libro. Tutto questo disgusto sembra poi così familiare. Bruno è l'ennesimo personaggio disgustoso della letteratura, ma senza avere il carisma che hanno altri protagonisti (da Roth in poi). Non proviamo nemmeno compassione per lui, non è una voce narrante che chiede comprensione, è un grido nel vuoto di un'umanità impossibile da salvare. Forse è solo un titolo invecchiato male. Forse sono io. Leggerò altro di Michel? Sì. Mi fionderò su altri titoli per togliermi questa sensazione di gelo di dosso? Sì. E a me piace Thomas Bernhard, eh.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
February 10, 2015
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 court defending himself and his motivations. He explores the sexual lives of his characters sometimes in great detail. He writes passages that could be construed as racist. Houellebecq does make me uncomfortable at times, but I believe good literature is supposed to make us flinch. His characters are analytical about their lives to the point that even moments of joy are destroyed before the character can even experience the happiness. I generally lose patience with books about epically unhappy people.

So why do I like reading Houellebecq novels?

Houellebecq is intellectual and smart and I like his analysis of what motivates people. Love is merely a chemical reaction. To think I'm being manipulated by chemical reactions instead of something larger, nebulous, mythical, and romantic does take some of the sparkle off the apple. It is interesting though from time to time to step back and look at what motivates me without an emotional element attached. I do make better decisions when I take enough time to let the impulsive first rush of thoughts subside and look at the issue with a certain amount of dispassionate distance. All that aside I certainly never want to look at everything from such an intellectual perspective that all the juice is sucked out of my life. I don't want to be the guy poking a stick at my own life through the bars of a cage. I think that is really why I like reading Houellebecq's books because he reminds me actually of how much I like my life, and even though I can make improvements mostly with more informed decisions; I don't want to spend the bulk of my life over examining my life to the point that I quit living my life. That in my opinion is a form of intellectual suicide.

Profile Image for Sofia.
287 reviews95 followers
November 6, 2019
Θα μπορούσα να αρχίσω και να τελειώσω αυτή την κριτική προτρέποντας απλά όλο τον κόσμο να διαβάσει αυτό το αριστούργημα αλλά για χάρη της μνήμης θα γράψω και λίγα λόγια παραπάνω.

Το βιβλίο αυτό είναι η χαρά του ψυχολόγου, Δύο παιδιά, αγόρια, απ’ την ίδια μάνα και διαφορετικό πατέρα γεννιούνται την περίοδο της σεξουαλικής απελευθέρωσης. Μην αυταπατάστε βέβαια. Οι συμβάσεις, κοινωνικές, πολιτικές, οικογενειακές, χρόνια σφηνωμένες στο μυαλό των ανθρώπων, οδήγησαν στη γέννηση αυτών των παιδιών από μία γυναίκα που ναι μεν ήθελε να είναι σύμβολο απελευθέρωσης από κάθε είδους φραγμό, αλλά δεν κατάφερε να παραδεχθεί ότι απλά δεν ήθελε και δεν έκανε για παιδιά. Εγκλωβίστηκε με λίγα λόγια στο πιο αρχέτυπο ένστικτο, στο πιο συμβατικό στερεότυπο καταλήγωντας στο τέλος καρικατούρα των όσων πρέσβευε. 

Πού οδηγεί όλο αυτό; Τα παιδιά να μεγαλώσουν και να γίνουν δυο ενήλικες φαινομενικά εκ διαμέτρου αντίθετοι,αλλά με ένα βασικό κοινό στοιχείο, τον βαθύ ψυχικό τραυματισμό τους από αυτή την μητρική απόρριψη.

Το σεξ γίνεται η αφετηρία αναζήτησης ή αποφυγής ουσιαστικής ανθρώπινης επαφής. Μιας επαφής που στερήθηκαν πριν χρόνια. Ταυτόχρονα, σαν χαλί που γλιστράει διαρκώς κάτω από τα πόδια των ηρώων, η δύση είναι εκεί με γεγονότα που την στιγμάτισαν και στιγμάτισε με την σειρά της ζωές και αντιλήψεις.

Στο κέντρο όλων όμως είναι πάντα ο άνθρωπος. Αυτή η ατελής, γεμάτη ελαττώματα ύπαρξη ικανή να καταστρέψει τα παιδιά της και τον ίδιο της τον εαυτό.

Ο άνθρωπος, πιο ανθρώπινος από ποτέ, σε αυτό το μυθιστόρημα του Ουελμπέκ, εξυψώνεται και συντρίβεται μέχρι που δεν μένει τίποτα άλλο πια από αυτόν παρά κάποια στοιχειώδη σωματίδια.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,217 reviews9,894 followers
May 7, 2008
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 crap. I don't understand its success at all, that just shows the decadance of France." In her own book, she speculates that he writes about sex because he doesn't get enough. "What's this moronic literature?! Houellebecq is someone who's never done anything, who's never really desired anything, who never wanted to look at others. And that arrogance of taking yourself as superior ... Stupid little bastard. Yes, Houellebecq's a stupid little bastard, whether he's my son or not."
Profile Image for Chris_P.
382 reviews269 followers
February 5, 2017
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.
Profile Image for roz_anthi.
158 reviews121 followers
September 22, 2021
Πόσο λίγο αγαπήσαμε
Με την ανθρώπινη μορφή μας
Ίσως ο ήλιος, κι η βροχή πάνω στους τάφους μας
Ο άνεμος κι η παγωνιά
Να βάλουν τέλος στα βάσανά μας.

Με τσάκισε αυτός ο αλήτης ο Ουελμπέκ.
Profile Image for Scott.
292 reviews317 followers
December 2, 2017
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 mysogynistically) trying and failing to find joy in sex, money, success, etc., and it is so in The Elementary Particles.

There isn’t much happiness to be found here. There are no Coelho moments of saccharine transcendence or reflection, no patronising rom-com redemptions. This steely grimness is to my reader’s eye part of what makes this novel the great work that it is.

Houellebecq’s varied and fascinating observations on the awfulness of everything come together in The Elementary Particles to make for a brutally powerful novel that genuinely blew me away, leaving me filled with new questions about the nature of our society and human relationships within it.

A sourpuss Houellebecq might be, but he is a damn talented sourpuss, and I rate this novel as one of the greatest of the late 20th Century, a book that I think will hold its own as a great work of its time and be read in future decades, much as we still read The Outsider, or The Catcher in the Rye.

This is a novel of ideas. Big ideas.

The aimlessness of modern middle class life. The constant hungering for youth that our teen-obsessed society conjures within us. The commodification of family, love and relationships that our post-sexual revolution, consumption oriented world has led to - The Elementary Particles takes aim at the ills of our society, and it's loaded for bear.

I could write about the characters - two brothers, one trying to feel something through a desperate pursuit of sex, the other a coldly sexless intellectual. I could talk about the grimness of their lives as they strive to find meaning and their disappointments pile up into mountains whose shadows suck the sun from their days. But I won’t, as in this story it is our society as whole that is the main character, a character who is screamed at, railed against and found to be the antithesis of so many things that make human beings happy.

If you can handle some pretty graphic sex combined with a story of nihilism, ennui and some hard examination of the consumerist wasteland that is modern Western society, then strap in for a damn fine novel.

Read this book. You’ll either love it dearly, or hate it passionately, and probably have excellent reasons for your opinion either way.
Profile Image for Sandra.
923 reviews265 followers
August 14, 2020
Come sempre quando leggo Houellebecq sono in crisi. Non posso negare che sia uno degli scrittori contemporanei più “vivi”nonostante tutto, cioè nonostante il suo nichilismo. Per questo sono spinta a leggerlo. Ogni suo libro è una masturbazione intellettuale, questo appena letto lo è al massimo: l’effetto nell’immediato è fastidioso. Nelle vicende dei due fratellastri Bruno, con un disturbo ossessivo della sessualità, e Michel, emotivamente vuoto e indifferente a qualsiasi emozione o sentimento, ciascuno una particella elementare studiata al microscopio dallo scrittore, c’è emblematicamente riassunta l’evoluzione nichilistica della società consumistica erotico-centrica e ipermaterialistica del ventesimo secolo. Questo è il grande merito dello scrittore, che come uno scienziato disseziona le sue vittime –i protagonisti dei romanzi-e le studia al microscopio, fornendo al lettore una visione cinica, fosca e alla fine annichilente del destino della specie umana (con un filo di fantascienza che sinceramente non ho gradito).
Però il romanzo non è solo questo, è soprattutto una sequela di masturbazioni, di scopate, di pompini, su cui lo scrittore si sofferma compiaciuto, in un crescendo di volgarità per arrivare a picchi di orrore da serial killer, mi viene da dire, in cui non è più pornografia, è violenza allo stato puro, è disumanità, è qualcosa che va oltre l’immaginazione più nera, è morte (mi riferisco alla parte sulle sette sataniche, sono stata male tutta la notte dopo avere letto quelle pagine). Questo per dire che ci sono pagine che non sono necessarie per la storia, ricolme di sesso fine a sé stesso, sulle quali lo scrittore si dilunga eccitato e che a me hanno soltanto irritato e in alcuni casi fatto orrore (mi riferisco, ad esempio, alla parte centrale su il Luogo del Cambiamento, o alla parte sulle sette sataniche che mi ha lasciato sconvolta).
Per questo il mio giudizio su Houellebecq continua a oscillare, ho voluto riprovare a leggerlo, ma credo che ora basta, è troppo.
Profile Image for Semjon.
659 reviews353 followers
June 28, 2020
Eigentlich ist ein Ding der Unmöglichkeit, diesem Buch 3 Sterne zu geben, denn dieses Buch will polarisieren. Man liebt oder hasst es. Daher bin ich mir nicht sicher, ob ich meiner Abneigung gegen Elementarteilchen gerecht werde, wenn ich es so lauwarm einstufe. Einerseits bin ich mir bewusst, dass Houellebecqs Wahl der Mittel zur Verdeutlichung seines Standpunktes bestürzend und faszinierend sind, andererseits halte ich das Buch einfach nur für billigen Schund.

Im Grunde dreht sich bei der Lebensgeschichte der beiden Halbbrüder Michel (asexuell) und Bruno (schwanzgesteuert) alles um die Frage nach Befriedigung der sexuellen Lust. Michel will sie biologisch-wissenschaftlich bekämpfen und Bruno will sie dagegen jederzeit und exzessiv ausleben. Warum sind die beiden Brüder so sexuell gestört? Weil ihre Mutter sie früh verlassen hatte, um ihre sexuellen Freiheit in der Welt zu suchen. Es fällt mir schwer Autor und Buch hier voneinander zu trennen, auch wenn es diese Schuldzuweisung Bruno in den Mund legt. Aber aus dem ganzen Buch sprießt jederzeit die Kernaussage, dass die Suche nach der individuellen, sexuellen Freiheit das Kernproblem des modernen Menschen ist. Es gibt angeblich keine Liebe. Männer können nicht lieben, sondern nur ihre Begierde ausleben. Die Frauen (vor allem die 68erinnen) sind Schuld an dieser Situation. Außerdem sind sie in erster Linie dazu da, dem Mann zur Bedienung seiner Begierde zu dienen. Das ist ein narrativer Holzhammer, mit dem Houellebecq seine Position hier der Leserschaft einhämmert. Vor allem macht er dies gleich zu Beginn im essayhaften erster Teil mit einer Erklärung des Notstandes, in dem sich die Menschheit befindet.

Die oft ekelhafte, pornografische Schreibweise ist ein Stilmittel, um die sexuelle Frustration zu verdeutlichen. Es wird wirklich über dem Maße onaniert, penetriert und ejakuliert. Ich kann da keine lobende Worte für die direkte, ungefilterte Sprache des Autors finden. Selten wurde so abstoßend über Geschlechtsverkehr geschrieben wie in diesem Buch. Wer hier meint, die heroische Suche nach Liebe durch zwei Gestörte herauslesen, hat meiner Ansicht nach viel Phantasie. Das Buch hat so viel mit Liebe zu tun, wie Pornhub mit Aufrichtigkeit (nein, ich meine das nicht doppeldeutig).

Wenn ich etwas Positives an dem Buch finde, daß ist es die Eindringlichkeit (Mann, warum fallen mir nur ständig doppeldeutige Begriffe ein? Das Buch hat mich kirre gemacht), mit der es Resonanz bei mir ausgelöst hat. Ich habe mich gefragt, warum ich so stark emotional auf die Geschichte reagiere? Wenn Literatur so etwas bei mir auslöst, dann kann ich das Buch nicht schlecht bewerten. Trotz fehlendem Lesevergnügen werde ich bestimmt irgendwann nochmal etwas von ihm lesen. Aber dieses durch Pauschalisierung geprägte Weltbild Houellebecqs hat mir in diesem Buch nicht gefallen.
Profile Image for Warwick.
842 reviews14.6k followers
December 20, 2012
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 is merely functional. I think this is supposed to be cleverly ‘scientific’ but I found it only uninteresting.
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