on 10 November 2008
I felt this was a musing about political and idealogical thoughts together with acute observations on sex, on sexual failure mostly, with the thread of a few characters holding it together.
The main character evokes sadness as we witness his sexual perceptiveness from the viewpoint of an excessive awareness of personal decay - but then life is sad.
The sex interested me at the curiosity level ( although I wondered whether I was being provoked into thinking it was exploitative of women -) - i felt mostly fascination and sorrow, but I was repelled by the depravity of the violence - I wondered why the sex and violence needed to be so disproportionate in making their respective points.
Overall a significant and clearly well written read, but not life changing.
on 13 February 2014
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 does little to explore the idea, even though it does amuse on occasion. The final chapter is laughable, and suggests me that the author is more comfortable airing his complaints than in pointing a way forward. I was bored and irritated by the end, having initially put it aside after 100 pages but being persuaded to finish it by another reviewer. I need not have bothered.
on 26 September 2006
I found this to be a pretty bleak, depressing, and difficult novel to read. It is written from a perpective of 70 years or so in the future, looking back on the lives of two half-brothers through the second half of the 20th century. Both men struggle to establish meaningful relationships with their peers, especially with women, and with each other. Both have been brought up by a different grandmother,having been abandoned by their parents. Houellebecq uses their dysfunctionality to examine the society in which they live - post-religious, sexually liberal, materialist - and finds it greatly wanting. Discussing science and philosophy in this context, with frequent references to French culture, Houellebecq's fictional world was, to me, opaque and obscure. Much of it went right over my head. Houellebecq's futuristic premise is that early 21st century society undergoes a 'metaphysical mutation', entering into a Huxleyan brave new world, but one which, due to the sociological and scientific changes that have taken place since Brave New World was written, offers a genuine utopia, rather then the dystopia that Huxley envisaged. I can't decide whether this is intended to be ironic or not. Is Houellebecq suggesting that humanity will, after all, ignore Huxley's warning and go down the path of genetically manufacturing its future? He spends 350 pages discussing the hopelessness of love, and the destructiveness of desire, finally making both redundant. The novel, on the face of it, celebrates this redundancy, but is Houellebecq actually warning us that the alternative to our painful, emotional lives is a sterile, cloned existence, and inviting us to choose?? Perhaps.
This is a relentlessly masculine novel, and one that, though compelling, I really didn't enjoy.
on 30 September 2006
Atomised is remarkable novel of ideas, as sophisticated as it is topical. There is no doubt, however, that this bleakly wistful narrative is an acquired taste.
Fractured and alternating, in a tale of two half-brothers, it rakes over the shards of masculinity at the end of the 20th Century. A jarring concoction of unpalatable truths, as unwonted as unwanted in some quarters, Atomised voices a problem with no name.
Biologist Michel's sabbatical represents an intellectual mid-life crisis driven by a dazed preoccupation with human relationships. It only succeeds to demonstrate a social amputation that is at once personal and pervasive. Bruno, a redeployed teacher and would-be debauchee, whose febrile desires are as questionable as they are achingly impotent, provides a lived experience of this social atrophy. The episode of his redeployment proves metonymical of the frustration of this beautifully tawdry narrative.
The counterpoint is exactly the success of the novel. If Bruno lives the molecular implosion of Western society, Michel - positioned as observer - whilst offering the novel's critical commentary, is condemned ultimately to the very detachment that critique implies.
This critique represents an archaeology of a fragmented present, of a fault-line between past and future. Using the themes of ageing and sexuality, masculinity and death, it picks through the bones of contemporary society, and its take on the postmodern legacy of the baby boom generation is withering. But this is less `Time Team' than time's up. If brothers' respective fates follow their inevitable trajectories, Michel embodies a transition.
Michel's life story is presented as quasi-historical account, a biographical retrospective in which he identified as the unknowing augur of a posthuman civilization of the future. The nature of this civilization remains largely unexplored. Some have remarked that the denouement of the book is unlikely or unsatisfactory, but this is to miss the point as the parenthetical prologue/epilogue really just act to be suggestive, to focus the critique of contemporary society which is its real quarry. In this, it becomes the natural prequel to The Possibility of an Island, which takes up these issues and runs with them.
The narrative, structured in this way is not without its problems, but this pseudo-retrospective engages a gentle prose that is stunning in its effect and range. The account of childhood emerging into adulthood, against the backdrop of mid to late 20th Century, is as affectionate as it is harrowing - and offers experiences recognisable to many men. In the manner of American Beauty, its portrayal of male sexualities, whilst ugly and discomfiting, are as sympathetic as they are compelling - and this is crucial to the power of its critique.
As such, this `retrospective' echoes Jameson's notion of `nostalgia'. However, poised uncomfortably somewhere between the tectonic plates of science fiction and non-generic fiction, it nevertheless effects a distancing that allows for its analysis to be pulverising.
In the face of the putative claims of a `crisis of masculinity', Houellebecq resolutely refuses to sweep some of the more unpleasant issues under the carpet. It is not difficult to see that this will not endear him in certain quarters. But, perhaps, this is all the more reason to read this searingly acute novel.
on 19 August 2006
`Atomised' is a nihilistic look at twentieth century life. It follows the lives of two half-brothers, Bruno and Michel. Bruno is a libertine, seeking only self-indulgence and sexual pleasure. Michel is an intellectual, a brilliant geneticist (among other things) trying to find academic answers to the questions of existence. Both men pursue their separate quests for meaning, but are unable to find fulfilment. Instead, they find themselves in an angst-driven downward spiral, as the bewildering freedoms offered by the twentieth century give no clue about how to achieve man's most elusive, and most important, goal: happiness.
I didn't find `Atomised' as bleak as some of the other reviewers. The questions dogging Michel and Bruno are really just those that have exercised existentialist thought for much of the last century. It is perhaps the nihilism of the book that gives it a more depressing air. What made `Atomised' stand out, for me, was the reversal of the logic of previous writers like Aldous Huxley (who is discussed by the brothers), in which individual freedom is preferable to happiness. Houellebecq stands this on its head, although to say much more would be to give the plot away. I actually found the ending a little silly, but it was at least a novel presentation of an answer to questions that have been asked many times, and the book as a whole is worth reading for that alone. It is very scholarly, though not always accurate, yet well written and easy to read. It seems to have had many readers reaching for the prozac, so be warned that it isn't the happiest story ever. The sex is also explicit and frequent, so don't go giving it to your Gran for her birthday. However, `Atomised' is a fine addition to the literature addressing the grandiose questions of twentieth century existence, and has a new take on one of the possible answers. A book definitely worth reading.
on 25 September 2000
Having read the very literary REVIEWS I am loath to add my less educated tuppence worth but, I am a reader and deserve an opinion so here goes! I didnt like this book at all. The endless scientific and sociological monologues generally presented as part of a conversation seemed to be stating the obvious in most part and underlining just how clever the author is - yeh so what?, or your point is...? The treatment of women in the book is ludicrous - they appear to have no needs of their own and are there to service only men - the revolting Bruno only feels tenderness when in the throes of pornographic ectasy - and the author makes no comment. This was the most unpleasant aspect of the book for me and reminded me of the hideous 'Story of O'. So, a clunky unbalanced, pretentious, sexist, nihilist load of over rated waffle. So there!
on 13 May 2000
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.
on 20 August 2006
This is a very bleak book, but the original ideas just keep jumping out at you every few pages. Take any hundred books off the shelves of any airport bookshop and I guarantee that this single volume has more thought provoking challenges to the reader than the rest of them put together. As one of the reviews printed on the cover says, entirely accurately..."Houellebecq hunts big game whilst other authors shoot rabbits".
on 2 September 2009
This is a book of ideas, but not very good ones. You do not have something important to say just because you have heard of quantum physics and Aristotle.The next book I started to read was Don Quixote and in the prologue Cervantes has the narrator agonising over his inability to name drop philosophers to make himself look cleverer and to juxtapose within the same paragraph a bit of romance and a sermon to give an impression of gravitas.That was 400 years ago so I'm not pointing out anything new. There are no real characters or character development in Atomised: the two main characters,Bruno and Michel and the narrator all have the same voice. The women are 2-d and the book contains so many expressions of misogny from its characters that it seems quite possible that the author does not know any actual ladies. There is not much of a plot just the promise of a revelation about some dramatic new era in world history the ideas behind which will be revealed by the book. Fortunately I approached this with a degree of sceptism so I was not too disappointed!
on 9 March 2007
I read this book as a random choice on holiday. I knew nothing of the author or the book.
Atomised is best described as very dark (almost miserable at times) with occasional sparks of black humour.
Sometimes while reading this book it felt very much like I was enduring it. For example, after the death in the family, we are given a scientific description of the decomposition of the corpse complete with the Latin names of the insects involved.
Definately an experience, this book contains a great deal of science and philosophy, sometimes referenced, sometimes fully quoted.
I've read nothing like this before.
Avoid if you are on any kind of anti-depression medication. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy/endure.