The Map and the Territory Hardcover – 29 Sep 2011
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"Impressive...Beguiling...He is a true original." (Observer)
"Elegiac...Compelling...A pleasure to read." (Times Literary Supplement)
"This book, so beautifully written, so inspiriting for all its pessimism, is the new novel I have loved best this year. We have not his equal." (David Sexton Spectator)
Part thriller, part satire, Houellebecq's prize winning and critically acclaimed new novel will be a publishing sensationSee all Product description
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In this tale, the 'hero' is a man named Jed Martin. Martin is a kind of genius, but not with people. He inhabits a world of manipulated objects that bring commercial success. In his career, he invents a new photography involving maps, but when this brings success, he immediately drops it and his Russian girlfriend, and becomes a painter. He slaves away for 10 years all on his own, then becomes an even greater success. This does not bring him a drop of happiness beyond a certain material comfort - he is on his own, and quits painting - nothing more to 'say'. At this point, Houellebecq pulls off his ultimate Roth act - he injects himself, warts and all, into the novel.
The tale then shifts into a police procedural, which changes the novel for 50 pages or so, and I think this delays its progress. It seems to be heading in a completely different direction - then suddenly stops short - and returns to it's hero, the detached Martin. I am not sure why Houellebecq has done this, and it does not help progress the Martin tale. It is nonetheless, fascinating, well written and utterly unpredictable.
Houellebecq writes beautifully, is full of interesting ideas and is utterly original. His portraits of modern men in despair are unsparing and deadly. For readers seeking easy plots and heroes, Houellebecq is a waste of time. For readers seeking a comfortable view of life, in tune with modern tastes, Houellebecq is not for you.
Once again, he is for me, one of today's best writers, someone whose books I look forwards to reading, confident that i will be stimulated and confounded.
The writing itself is not always great, either, but I suspect most of this is down to poor translation: there are a number of obvious literals, for example. Also he tends to overdo the use of italics when highlighting certain words or phrases that are intended to have an amusing aspect to them, to the extent that we might get two or three of these per page.
Another complaint might be that, when the character Houellebecq appears in the story, as himself, he barely differs from the main character, the artist Jed. This isn’t surprising, as Houellebecq always seems to model his main character on himself, but it doesn’t make for much diversity.
But having said all that, I still found this to be a very readable and at times amusing novel, with an unusual twist in the final third of the book that I found entertaining, up until the last fifty pages or so, when the whole thing deteriorates quite badly. At this point a sudden burst of violence on the part of Jed, which I won’t describe here because it might spoil things for others, seems to me to be shockingly out of character and also quite stupid and repulsive. As if this isn’t bad enough, these last pages are really badly written, though again this might be down to poor translation.
Before I got to this last part, I was thinking I would rate this four stars, but the ending changed things. This is a pity, because in most respects this is a more subtle work than his previous books, perhaps reflecting a more mature author. The themes are similar, though: the absurdity of life; the commercialization of everything, in particular (in this novel) of art; the shallowness and emptiness of modern lives. I still think it’s worth reading, but the ending is grim, even by Houellebecq’s standards.
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