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Atomised [Paperback]

Michel Houellebecq , Frank Wynne
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2001

Half-brothers Michel and Bruno have a mother in common but little else. Michel is a molecular biologist, a thinker and idealist, a man with no erotic life to speak of and little in the way of human society. Bruno, by contrast, is a libertine, though more in theory than in practice, his endless lust is all too rarely reciprocated. Both are symptomatic members of our atomised society, where religion has given way to shallow 'new age' philosophies and love to meaningless sexual connections.

Atomised (Les Particules elementaires) tells the stories of the two brothers, but the real subject of the novel is the dismantling of contemporary society and its assumptions, its political incorrectness, and its caustic and penetrating asides on everything from anthropology to the problem pages of girls' magazines. A dissection of modern lives and loves. By turns funny, acid, infuriating, didactic, touching and visceral.

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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: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,710 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


"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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not pleasant but essential. Extraordinary. 25 July 2005
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A ferocious blast against individualism - superb 29 Nov 2008
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Don't be put off by the rather salacious snippet from `The Independent' review on the book's front cover. Sad (rather than filthy) sex and all, this is a mesmerising work, a mostly fairly wretched chronicle of sad lives that ends in a sort of bleak beauty. Its characters, half-brothers Michel and Bruno, are the socially dysfunctional offspring of their `hippie-whore' mother (modelled only too closely, it now appears, on Houellebecq's own mother), doomed to lead utterly individualistic lives in a world seemingly incapable of imparting any sense of the value of the social and communal. Houellebecq's satire takes this individuation to its logical conclusion, the perfectly rational elimination of sexual reproduction as a wasteful and inefficient, death-laden way of continuing the race. For all its semi-autobiographical bile, possibly one of the most ferocious blasts against the individualism of our age you'll ever read. Unflinching.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Standing at the crossroads of art and science. 22 Feb 2004
Someone once said that trying to introduce ideas into a novel is tantamount to letting a gun off in a theatre – in which case Houellebecq here revels in firing a shotgun during a premiere performance. His is a fresh and fascinating take on modern living, supposing that society today is half defined by our awareness of the consequences of popular science and half by our awareness of the consequences of pornography. His characters are educated and intelligent but their lives are filled with frustrated lusts and insights into an essential emptiness of the world around them. There is a deliciously honest political incorrectness about Houellebecq’s views and a fierce sense of his desire to shake-up the accepted norms. In France, where intellectual arguments can still make headlines in the popular media, the book caused a storm of protest and debate. The contention is that just because we know a lot of things about a lot of things, just because we think that we understand the dynamics of society in a way that no previous generation has, just because we feel that we have an appreciation of the value-systems that structure our lives; none of this has moved us on any distance from being prejudiced and boorish and base. Houellebecq argues that society has fractured into individuals and that this lets us see ourselves for what we really are – for all that we may have learned to walk upright and use tools, we are still just naked apes. This book is quite simply unmissable.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars astounding 13 May 2000
By A Customer
The early reviews of Atomised have tended to concentrate on the vast amount of sex throughout it and ask whether it is a piece of post-modern pornography. This is utter rubbish. Comparisons with American Psycho are inevitable and both books describe genital interaction with only the most tangential relationship to sex. Houellebecq says far more with his gynaecological references than mere pornography can, with a devastating insight into the shallowness of humanity - Less Than Zero cropped up in my mind repeatedly in the decriptions of mechanical, sexual Bruno and his inability to see beyond the end of his own glans. His brother Michel is a peculiar character, more arch than any I can think of and the dialogue between them is a crude device for the author's misanthropy. No harm there, though, as he is up there with Celine in the humanity-is-an-abomination stakes. The repeated references to Aldous Huxley make the ending a little predictable but he carries the Big Ideas through to a perfect conclusion. On the cover is a quote that this is "The great novel of the end of the millenium". Thanks to a delay in translation, for us Brits it is the first great one of the next. Read it and think.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious, dated and ultimately empty
The notion of dramatic shifts in biology, thought and social structure is an interesting one, but this book is padded out with repetitive, bleak and somewhat dated narrative that... Read more
Published 2 months ago by I. Alexander-Finch
1.0 out of 5 stars Save yourself some time and do not bother
I have just wasted several hours on reading this book. It is the biggest load of pretentious pseudo-intellectual twaddle it has been my misfortune to read. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Richard Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars 'This book is dedicated to mankind.'
There are some novelists who can't be avoided in the charged instability of their prose. We find this in the literature of extremes, and one such recent case is Michel Houellebecq. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Brother Blanc
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
The way to tell if a book is a work of near genius is to note if people take a stance against the book to define who they are to side with other people defining who they are by... Read more
Published 8 months ago by craig
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book.
You don't read Houellebecq to be cheered and uplifted, but reading him really makes you think, and he holds a magnifying glass to modern society like few other writers. Read more
Published 14 months ago by J. Craven
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Schadenfreude
A bio-chemist friend recommended this book to me while we tanned our pasty frames on the beach in Barcelona in 2001. Read more
Published on 12 Mar 2012 by Camp Bell Mark
5.0 out of 5 stars The 'last man' and the 'superhuman'
Atomised was highly recommended to me by friend who is a scientist. I am more the philosophical type and I loved the book too. Read more
Published on 11 Feb 2012 by Timos
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking !
I recommend this book highly. I started this book a week ago, and finished in about a week. In a lot of chapters, it seemed to say exactly some of the things I have been trying to... Read more
Published on 17 Nov 2011 by Shopperninja
1.0 out of 5 stars Soulless verbiage
Vacuous, heavy-handed tosh. What a mystery that it has been so highly rated. It has all the depth and subtlety of a piece of aluminium foil, none of the shine, and doesn't even... Read more
Published on 10 Oct 2011 by Stetson
5.0 out of 5 stars novel of ideas
This is a novel full of ideas and written in an original and quirky way. The two central characters in the book are the victims of a beatnik mother who totally neglects their... Read more
Published on 12 Mar 2011 by Mr. Robert Marsland
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