France's most-read author, and arguably its most provocative, is celebrating his birthday, even if no one really knows exactly what year he was born. What is not ambiguous is how his work mixes with his life.
1956 or 1958? The sources are not clear when it comes to Michel Houellebecq's year of birth. His mother possibly made him out to be two years older than he actually was in order to get him into school sooner. At least, that is what France's most famous author said once in the past. He never cleared up the confusion. Like so much else in Houellebecq's life, it has become part of his ironic game.
Houellebecq, who has written numerous poetry books, a biographical essay and multiple novels, has perfected the art of provocation. Some of his best-known works of fiction include "Atomised" (1998), about two brothers' modern mental struggles, "The Map and the Territory" (2010), in which he imagines his own murder, and the political satire "Submission" (2015), about a conservative Muslim political party winning the French presidential election.
Many critics consider Houellebecq to be reactionary and Islamophobic while others see him as a literary visionary with an unmistakable feel for the ills and insecurities of the present time. The author has hinted he would like to write another novel dealing with the theme of love — or maybe the lack of love. Ambiguity, it seems, does not decrease with age.