Customer Review

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More style than substance., 2 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Map and the Territory (Hardcover)
In reading other reviews of this novel, I'm struck by the terms in which admiration for both writer and novel are expressed. "If you don't get him, you will hate him." Houellebecq is "pushing the boundaries" etc. What it is that we uninitiated fail to get and what these boundaries are remain misty. I have the feeling that for some the novel is protected from criticism because those who might deride it are doing so from principles and touchstones unequal to the dimension within which M.Houellebecq's work operates. To me this smacks of a curious mixture of arrogance and defensiveness.

In fairness, at this point I'd better make some confessions: this is my first acquaintance with this author and I read the novel in English so cannot assess the quality of the translation, though as someone else comments, the proofreading is abysmal.

When newspaper reviewers use terms such as "caught up in a tropical storm" and "blown away by the ferocity of his imagination" I find myself groping at a loss. The story of a photographer/painter, his relationship with a beautiful Russian woman and with his father is handled with a studied coolness against a background of sophisticated, cultural affluence. The central character, Jed, lacks wit or warmth, merging effortlessly into the glossy, sophisticated world of Parisian high commerce and culture, not least when he flouts some their tribal codes of dress and conduct. The novel starts with a tableau and thereafter offers a series of static scenes. Of course standing apart from this world of an advertiser's fantasies is the writer himself, a recluse, self-consciously, but very familiarly eccentric. We are told that there is love between Jed and Olga, but only the most ineffective and conventional gestures suggest any depth of feeling; there is all the passion and affection that binds Barbie and Ken, figures they alarmingly resemble. Is that the satirical intention? The final section is in quite a different key. Two flesh and blood characters, Jasselin and his young protégé, command the stage. Here realism and surrealism merge convincingly to grip attention, but what symbolic significance the horrors and their fastidious descriptions have eludes me. There is, though, a portentous presence of meaning that may for some cohere into a resolution to this curious novel. If, and it may be quite otherwise, the Prix Goncourt is the French equivalent of the Mann Booker prize, then I'm not particularly surprised that this novel is so highly regarded. Sadly, it seems to me to lack vitality and more importantly that powerful impact that precedes intention and meaning and is the common factor that unites all really fine novels.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 9 Jan 2013 11:13:09 GMT
M. Lea says:
Valid opinion points well made, even though I rate the novel higher than in this review. It'd be very interesting to read your opinions on Platform or Atomised if you're prepared to try them - please do

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jan 2013 12:37:25 GMT
Thank you for taking the trouble to comment. Your remarks are appreciated. I shall take up your invitation to read one of the other novels and shall no doubt post here in due course.
Many thanks again. good wishes,
Donald
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