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on 28 January 2013
You don't read Houellebecq to be bouyed and uplifted, but reading him really makes you think, and he holds a magnifying glass to modern society like few other writers. I only wish my French was good enough to read him in French. The only English-speaking writer I can think of that does the societal dissection things as well is Morton Bain.
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on 1 April 2012
Melancholic bordering on nihilistic, at pains to link the recent past with the present and future, and preoccupied with sex and death, this is very much classic Houellebecq. The three main characters include the author himself, an artist very much in the mould of Houellebecq, and a detective nearing retirement. Like the (earlier) films of Woody Allen, Houellebecq's novels are irresistibly autobiographical, if not in reality, then in imagination. For those familiar with his fiction this novel will deliver, although it is shorter than some of the more recent works. Each of the main characters is explored (or reflected) through a particular relationship. The artist Jed, with his dying father; Houellebecq, through his brief encounters with Jed; and the detective with his more junior colleague. Like Houellebecq's previous novel, its resolution is set in the future, a device which allows him to deepen his cutting critique the present. Houellebecq's characters rail against modernity, explicitly so in this novel, yet it is never clear, like Kafka, if this in the belief of an alternative system, or simply an eloquent and entertaining expression of a writer's resignation to the ultimately fruitless struggle of life.
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on 7 August 2016
When you read MH you enter his, quite particular, world. He writes in a way that I know will make me re-read him over the years to come. As I have just re-read all his books for the 2nd and 3rd times. He is unique, a word bandied around too often but in his case justifiable.
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on 12 March 2012
After the mind-numbingly boring Possibility of an Island, The Map and the Territory is a welcome return to form of the Twenty-First Century's leading misanthrop. Saying that, for Houellebecq this tome is relatively upbeat, certainly his lightest work since the enjoyable novella Lanzarote. The Map and the Terroritory finds Houellebecq making his own critique of the conceptual art world and the fatuous who populate it. The book follows the professional life of a millionaire Parisian artist called Jed, who approaches "the writer" Michel Houellebecq for a portrait as part of his latest exhibtion. Through this character Houellebecq pokes fun at both himself and also his media persona, an interesting exercise of art imitating life. Though he appears to have mellowed, the Enfant Terrible of French literature still has a capacity to shock, in particular when describing his character's own grisely demise and a surprisingly heart-warming description of Bischon dogs.

Camp Bell Mark

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on 17 January 2012
Houellebecq is streets ahead of most current English language novelists, if not all, in terms of originality, believability, quality of prose (in the French) and sheer readability.
This novel follows an artist's life mostly through his 3 or 4 inspired periods, and makes one both see and want to see the works. It parodies or assimilates or modernises the Balzac novel of ambition and success in Paris, Proust's party scenes, even Maigret on a difficult case. It creates with splendid humour and blitheness the character 'Michel Houellebecq' and sends him to a sticky end. It also meditates on fathers and sons and depression through the generations, and passionately rejects assisted suicide. Then it diverts into little rather convincing sociological homilies and dystopian, but mildy so, futurology. It covinces and entertains almost all the way, though perhaps it isn't very good on women, who always seem to emerge as robots in Houellebecq's world. Highly recommendable.
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on 26 June 2013
I was moved by this novel and I'll think about it and perhaps dream about it. I think we're at a watershed moment and Houellebecq is indicating that this is so. Nobody else I've read is able to sum up so perfectly where we are now and hint at what we could be.
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on 17 August 2015
An engaging and clever satirical analysis of parts of modern french society by the author of Atomised. The translation is a little "clunky" in places but it is well worth reading nevertheless.
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on 1 December 2015
An interesting read. A book full of ideas and some humour. The author puts himself in the book which is strange. The main character is lonely and isolated but I enjoyed reading the story of his life.
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on 31 August 2012
I came across this book by chance and could not put it down! Very clever and wide ranging. The art world brutally exposed. The role of police in society looked at with a keen eye. Lots more. Very thought provoking and intelligent throughout. One does not have to agree with something to read it and enjoy it. Too many people seem to have a kind of thought control in their minds to allow a different voice to speak. pc folk will hate it but the mediocre will never learn. Read think for yourself and decide for yourself. It is possible!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 January 2012
'The Map and the Territory' is Michel Houellebecq's Goncourt Prize-winning novel of 2010, translated here by Gavin Bowd. Set in the present and very near future, it traces the career of Jed Martin, a photographer and painter who becomes a celebrity artist. Martin's father is a successful, wealthy architect; he has lost his mother early to an inexplicable suicide. Houellebecq's novel follows Martin's increasing absorption in his artistic interests and almost inadvertent rise to fame, which takes an unusual detour when he becomes involved with 'Michel Houellebecq', a notorious French writer who is commissioned to write the text for a Martin exhibition catalogue, and who receives as a gist in addition to his fee a portrait of himself by Martin - a gift that turns out to be something of a poisoned chalice.

The title of the novel might seem at first glance to be a reference to the much-quoted saying 'the map is not the territory'; but in fact Houellebecq derives it from the title of an exhibition viewed by Martin whose title is 'The Map is More Interesting Than the Territory'. That change is characteristic of the author, whose savage disenchantment with the contemporary world is now well established. But 'The Map and the Territory' represents something of a departure for Houellebecq. Some of the familiar elements are here: the contempt for hypocrisy; the casual dismissal of celebrity; the willingness to offend; the dry comedy; the underlying melancholy and fatalism. But all this is placed at the service of a serious investigation of the purposes of art in our time, both for the individual and for the wider society.

Houellebecq has in effect split himself here between multiple fictional versions of himself - a strategy that allows him to combine a satirical self-portrait (as 'Houellebecq') with an alter ego: the relatively naïve and affectless, at times almost autistic Martin, who is seized by the demon of art in ways he barely understands, and who immediately recognises the same demon in the older man. Particularly unusual for Houellebecq is the way in which the book keeps circling back to the relationship between the motherless Martin and his widowed, ageing father, which in a characteristically uncompromising manner tackles the big issues of mortality in a godless age and the sheer difficulty of establishing and maintaining a relationship with an other who is ultimately unknowable.

One can see why this novel was awarded the Goncourt. Among other things, it is very French, in a way that some of Houellebecq's earlier fictions were not. It is deeply romantic, in that real failure here is a matter of losing love, failing to make meaningful connections with others, and seeing the divine intensity of creativity reduced to a matter of cash value in the market. Far from being a cynic or a nihilist, Houellebecq impresses me as a man wounded by the gap between what life offers and what it withholds.

My only reservation concerns the translation, which is serviceable at best. In particular, some of the many technical terms and expressions from computing and photography that Houellebecq uses seem to have given difficulty. Camera lenses are described as having 'high' rather than 'long' focal lengths; the French term 'gigaoctets' (gigabytes), which means nothing outside France, is left untranslated. In the expression 'rabbit rillettes' the Anglophone reader is assumed to need a translation for 'lapin' but not the less familiar term 'rillettes' (a kind of meat paste). If this tactic is intended to preserve some 'local colour', it's fair to ask why it isn't pursued consistently. There are other lapses and inconsistencies that prevent the text from convincing completely as idiomatic English. The impression throughout is of work done at speed and barely proofed in order to make the book available in English as rapidly as possibly after the Goncourt win. As one of the best novelists now writing, Houellebecq deserves better.
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