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Books

Houellebecq provokes with 'space-saving' text collection

By a macabre coincidence, the date of publication of Michel Houellebecq's last political satire coincided with the "Charlie Hebdo" massacre. A year later, the author releases a collection of his earlier works.

The novel "Submission" is set in 2022 and imagines life in France after a Muslim party is elected to power. Not only did the timing of the publication of the French edition - on January 7, 2015, the day two Islamist gunmen stormed the editorial offices of "Charlie Hebdo" - provide enormous publicity for the book, its provocative storyline sparked intense debate amidst a country already overwhelmed by emotions.

Some claimed Houellebecq's scenario would only fuel the fears of extremists and xenophobes. As a matter of fact, its ideas were picked up by such controversial figures as the founder of France's National Front (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen, who declared last December after the regional elections in France that he feared the country would elect a "President Mustafa" in 2017.

The provocative misanthropist

Beyond his most recent novel, Houellebecq is renowned for his ironic and misanthropic tone. He decided to offer a collection of his earlier works in order to allow his readers to maximize space on their bookshelves, as they "often have very small apartments," as he writes in the preface of the 1,200-page volume, which collects his writings from 1991 to 2000.

The collection of texts is to be published in French on January 6 - the eve of the first anniversary of the attacks on satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo."

Although this chosen date of publication rather points to the fact that Houellebecq loves to provoke the media's attention, he also keeps a tight guard on whoever dares report on him.

Last June, the French daily "Le Monde" published a series of six articles on Houellebecq's universe. A request to interview him as a part of this series of reports led to an enraged email reply, in which the writer copied all of his influential friends, asking them to boycott any requests for interviews on his subject.

Accusatory indifference

After the November attacks in Paris, Houellebecq published an opinion piece in "The New York Times" and Italy's "Corriere della Serra," where he claims to have gotten so used to terrorist attacks that he didn't even watch the news in the aftermath of the November 13 tragedy.

On the other hand, his apparent indifference is contradicted by a series of strong denunciations in the same essay. Among other things, he accuses France's leaders to "have pathetically, systematically, deplorably failed in their essential mission: to protect the population under their responsibility," for instance by weakening police forces and minimizing the importance of national borders.

His erratic opinions add to the public's repulsion and fascination for this divisive author who, somehow, keeps finding his way on overloaded bookshelves.

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