Platform is a fine novel. It's readable, it's intelligent and funny, but above all, and like most really good literature, it's challenging, troubling, and puts forward more questions than answers. A strong narrative holds together the many different facets to the novel: love story, pornography, analysis of the travel industry, philosophy, moral inquiry, critique of globalization and Western civilization.
Camus is a clear influence on Houellebecq. Paralleling the death of Meursault's mother in The Outsider, Platform begins with the death of Michel the narrator's father. Michel mirrors Meursault's emotional detachment from the loss. Like Meursault, Michel is a morally detached individual, refusing to conform to the expectations of Western civilization and society, pursuing instead his own path of libertinism. And just as in The Outsider, Michel is caught up in conflicting cultures.
Platform quite deliberately raises troubling authorial questions. Is Michel the narrator simply a mouthpiece for Michel the author's views? It is not an easy question to answer, but one which persists throughout the novel and impacts on the way in which it is read. For Michel the author has courted trouble in France for his disparaging views on Islam, Christianity and Judaism; and Michel the narrator holds various controversial and unsettling opinions, most notably on Islam and on the subject of sex tourism, on which neutrality on the reader's part is not an obvious option.
The novel cleverly juxtaposes the love story with the semi-pornographic descriptions of sex; it dwells on contrasting civilizations, the exotic East and the stale West, and the complications of the rival contrast between the secular hedonism of the West and the Islam of the East; and it explores, and manages to interrelate within what amounts to an analysis of globalization, the subjects of sex, tourism, the allure of an Eastern paradise, and Western consumer and business values.
Houellebecq, quite rightly, does not provide some neatly wrapped answer to all the questions his novel raises. Instead, it is left to the reader to contemplate the implications of the story, to work at making sense of the contradictions posed, to judge whether the apparent moral vacuum at the heart of the novel is filled. And it is this that makes Platform such a good book: by refusing to patronize its readers and express only what they want to read, it invites its readers to confront and provide their own answers to the provocative and difficult questions posed.