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By Michel Houellebecq
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
I have to admit, despite its more prurient elements, I really love reading the work of a writer like Michel Houellebecq. A nihilist in the classic sense of the term, he writes contemporary human-interest (and sometimes science-fiction) novels that are not just offensive but quite literally offensive to every single demographic on the planet (he hates men, he hates women, he hates the rich, he hates the poor, he hates Christians, he hates atheists, etc); yet he's an award-winning, nearly superstar-level public intellectual in his native France (one of the few countries left on the planet that still reveres its public intellectuals), and I guiltily love that this causes a crisis of analysis among NPR-style leftists over how exactly to think of him and his writing. His latest, for example, is yet another doozy of a cultural minefield; set only ten years from now, it imagines a national election where a newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood party and the fascist National Front end up just barely squeaking by the traditional liberal and conservative French parties in the general election, guaranteeing that they will be the only two parties allowed in the eventual runoff, which forces mainstream French society to back the Muslim party for fear of neo-Nazis winning the national election, which results in Muslims taking over France's national government in a sweeping landslide, and instituting things like sharia law in public classrooms and a required veil for all French women when appearing in public.
But unlike, say, how a Tea Party author might handle such a scenario, Houellebecq goes to great lengths to show that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually a politically moderate, anti-terrorist, pro-business party in France, and that generally the populace ends up pretty happy under their leadership, including a period of the lowest crime rates and most successful economy that modern France has ever seen. So why are people in France so up in arms about this novel anyway? Well, perhaps that's because of Houellebecq's dryly cynical way he treats intellectual liberals in this novel, the true villains of this book much more than Muslims; under his blackly funny depiction, most of the NPR crowd become happily willing Muslim turncoats faster than their grandparents turned into Nazis during German occupation in World War Two (a huge running subject in this book, the never-discussed national shame of France's occupation by Nazi Germany in the 1940s, and the way that most French people reacted to the occupation by simply shrugging and immediately becoming Nazis themselves), with most of the proudly feminist women of Paris intellectual society suddenly discovering how much they actually love getting paid by the government to become stay-at-home moms, how liberating it suddenly is to no longer have to worry about what high-priced fashion outfit they're going to wear out in public that day. In Houellebecq's world, nationalistic French professors convert to Islam in the blink of an eye in order to keep their jobs, helped quite a bit by the now Saudi-funded Sorbonne taking it upon themselves to find all these dysfunctional eggheads 15-year-old wives to do all their cooking and cleaning; and the once-proud intellectuals who used to decry such developments are now under a Muslim administration falling all over themselves to publicly justify Muslim social mores within a Western secular setting, with the big hot new topic among educated society (for just one example) now being how "freely chosen marriage for love" is an antiquated, outdated notion from the Romantic Age, and how "pre-arranged marriage for financial gain" actually has a much longer and prouder tradition that it's about time we all go back to embracing.
Be warned, just like all his novels, you will eventually be offended during some point of Submission, and maybe offended the entire way through depending on who you are; but for those like me who love seeing the piss taken out of self-important earthy crunchy types, this could quite possibly be Houellebecq's most accessible novel yet, an especially intellectual story that quite specifically targets its bile towards the exact politically-correct nerds who made him famous to begin with. It comes strongly recommended for that reason, but don't blame me if you're ready to angrily toss the book across the room about halfway through.
Out of 10: 9.6