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Atomised Paperback – 1 Mar 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (1 Mar. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099283360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099283362
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Michel Houellebecq's dark and disturbing novel Atomised sees him establish himself as a unique and important voice in European letters. With his first work, Whatever, Houellebecq had created a sassy, street-wise bulletin of disaffected existentialism, and here that voice brilliantly extends its range. Atomised (from the French Les Particules élémentaires) is the story of two half-brothers, Michel and Bruno, who seem to represent two sides of Houellebecq himself (there are more than a few moments in the book where we feel we are reading a strange roman à clef). Michel, a molecular biologist, finds ordinary, human emotions inexplicable, making him seem abstruse and cold. Bruno is his opposite: a frustrated libertine trapped in a body most find repellant but still holding sex up as his most validating moment. Through these skewed archetypes an intricate, sometimes quite moving story of the brothers' lives is formed.

Houellebecq obviously has a formidable intellect and, like the best French writers, manages to rail against anthropology, psychoanalysis, New Age philosophy and modern society in general without losing sight of his narrative--indeed the narrative is controlled quite beautifully, the pacing excellent, the switching from one brother's story to the other's done with a quiet grace. While some of Houellebecq's views are at the least questionable, and while there are moments when the conclusions to be drawn from his broadsides are disturbing, this never negates the value of the work. This is an ambitious book in which Houellebecq asks important questions: if sex is continually degraded by its increasing commodification and, concomitantly, genetics increasingly offers us the opportunity for procreation without recourse to it, where does that leave us? How do we navigate ourselves, afloat as we are, in this new moral universe? What does the increasing pace of scientific change mean to the conversations non-scientists have about our lives? What place does something called spirituality, whatever that means, have in this brave, new world? This is a big, bold, clever book that has already achieved more than cult status in France. Houellebecq should be read, and read carefully, if not always believed. --Mark Thwaite

Review

"Very moving, gloriously, extravagantly filthy and very funny" (Independent)

"Compelling...wrenchingly terrible... Unhealthy and haunting, rich and provocative, Atomised astonishes both as a novel of ideas and as a portrait of a society" (Independent)

"A brave and rather magnificent book" (Daily Telegraph)

"Sheer brilliance...totally mesmerising, energising, infuriating and moving... Compulsory reading" (Time Out)

"A novel which hunts big game while others settle for shooting rabbits" (Julian Barnes Times Literary Supplement)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Mr. A. Jehangir on 25 July 2005
Format: Paperback
I started reading this book almost a year ago and got through the first 2/3 very quickly; then something strange happened: I was so depressed by the contents of it, the constant pointless sex, the graphic descriptions, the callousness and emptiness of the characters and the emptiness of their shallow lives that--despite knowing that all this was deliberate by Houllebecq, that it was his razor-sharp deconstruction and commentary on the modern Western lifestyle--I was just not able to continue, until two days ago, when, with nothing else to do, I picked it up off my bookshelf and started from where I'd left off. The hiatus worked wonders and I whizzed through the remainder of the book, enthralled and riveted, although at times disgusted too, and full of admiration.
This is a difficult book but a necessary one and, I have no hesitation in now saying, a brilliant one. The book is full of some extraordinary ideas and incisive commentary on humanity in the late 20th century, especially that of European society. The ending--it goes into (very plausible) hard science fiction territory--the erudition of the writer, his eye for detail, and his twin obsessions of sex and violence, and his ability to be brave enough to write what he sees without any thought for political correctness or any of the other sops of the liberal left, is breathtaking and--despite the ocassional Islamophobia, nay contempt he portrays for organised religion but Islam in particular, his racism, makes this book essential reading especially after the tragic events of 9/11 and those in London on 7/7 and after. This book has more important and accurate things to say about the human condition of contemporary European man than any number of the dry academic essays on sociology and anthroplogy you can care to read.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Dance on 23 Feb. 2008
Format: Paperback
There's already quite a lot been written about this book both on Amazon and elsewhere. So there is no need to go on a any further length about how depressing Houellebecq's world view is. I could not disagree with any of that! And of course this kind of nihilism has plenty of antecedents, especially in European literature. Most immediately we can see the influence of Camus and Sarte in the existentialist-style anti-hero. What I think does need pointing out is that far from being a masterpiece and work of genius, this is actually highly derivate and rather poorly written. Maybe the judgement on the writing is unfair - after all this is a translation and we would need to be fluent in French to form a qualified opinion on the style. All I can say is that in the translation the writing comes across as leaden and clumsy, and, I might add, pretentious. Houellebecq is a philosopher and we are right to expect his work, like Satre's fiction, to be informed by his philosophical views. But what we get is a hotpotch ill asssorted observations that might look impressive in a teenager's efforts. Moreover, the grimness of his world view does not really pack all that much punch. The horrors he describes are nothing compared with what can be seen on tv any night. We are, I fear, as a society, generally desensitized to atrocity. But a modern writer has to take this into account. On the plus side I will say that Houellebecq is sometimes quite funny - perhaps his real gift is for comedy!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By N. A. Spencer on 26 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback
I was surprised to read so many unfavourable reviews on here concerning 'Atomised'. I would totally agree that there are sexual themes within the content of the book that could be judged unnecessary, offensive or too graphic, but there are also other themes that are dealt with in a thoughtful and sympathetic manner. To judge the book on the former themes alone is unfair.
On a personal level I found the book really enjoyable and very humourous. I thought Houellebecq's use of allegory through the lives of the two half brothers to reflect the constant flux in French society between the 1970s and the end of the 20th century illuminating and informative.
As mentioned above, the main theme of the novel revolves around the lives of two half brothers, Michel and Bruno. Michel is the serious child, diligent in his studies and work, shunning contact and friendship. As a child he befriends Annabelle who lives in the same village as him. Their lives running parallel with each other till Michel departs for college and university, totally oblivious of the love that Annabelle held for him. By contrast, Bruno has one desire on reaching his teens, to live as hedonistic a lifestyle as is possible. Sadly for him something usually happens to spoil his crowning moment, adding to the bitterness and angst he feels is his lot.
Michel and Bruno have no contact with each other till they are both at boarding school but soon drift apart again once they leave. Their paths do cross periodically in adulthood and it is from these meetings, plus their individual changes that Houellebecq uses to examine the societal and historic changes that have occurred in France, plus the fictional changes to the brothers lives.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Reprobus Marmaritarum on 24 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback
This book sucks. Self loathing, pseudo-intellectual masturbatory nihilism with a side-order of really, really dreadful science fiction. Some might say it continues the noble tradition of French existential malaise epitomised by Sartre's Nausea. However, those people would be wrong. A vigorous enema would be more instructive of the human condition.
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