Top positive review
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Few flaws, many touches of genius
on 3 April 2006
Houellebecq is a man who breaks taboo's, probably the only major author alive who tackles subjects such as sexual tourism, paedophilia, the alieness of islamic culture, inter-racial sexual attraction, all of which are surely some of the most noteworthy socio-historical phenomonen of the new millenium, yet not the topics that tend to win backslapping literary awards, especially not when tackled with the distinctive Houellebecqian pens of political incorrectness and semi-pornography.
Yet the world needs such authors more than it needs booker prize winners, and here is another work of art we can turn to if we wish to understand, or at least frame the debate, on some of the great issues and tensions of the age.
Through means of a story that revolves mainly around the far eastern sex trade, Houellebecq asks questions about the point of modern western civlisation, a civilisation which seems to have only hedonistic pleasure and 'individuality' remaining as values. I don't think Houellebecq is making a damning indictment of the sins of the flesh here ( you can't read some of his passages or anything about his private life to believe that) but rather expressing a somewhat gloomy Schopenhauerian kind of view that the human animal is just not meant to be happy and contented, that a fat and bloated west will not be able to begin a sustainable phase of contented pleasure seeking because nature just doesn't do happiness as an end in itself. Nature merely serves us short-term hedonistic tricks that might reward its own darwinian purposes, but not the ultimate contentment of the human being.
The author's many criticism's of Islam got him into even more hot water here than his justification of sexual tourism, but his interlocking of the two subjects now seems like some kind of bitter genius after 9/11 and Bali. Young muslim men blow themselves up in order to tear apart the limbs and bodies of infidel westerners enjoying the forbidden pleasures of nubile young asian women. Yet as Houellebecq dryly points out, the flesh pots of Thailand are pretty much the closest environment on earth to that of the 72 virgins which those young muslims think will be their reward for killing innocents. Why does man insist on believing in such self-denying esotoric virtues, when thier ultimate reward could be made possible by a simple economic transaction in the here and now? Pleasure will never be made simple, and happiness forever found unattainable in Houellebecq's grim and misanthropic vision of humanity.