This is undoubtedly Houellebecq's most ambitous work to date. The themes of his previous novels, such as the fragmentation of modern society, the masochistic cult of youthful sexuality in an aging society, and the possibility of happiness in a world in which values have been stripped to those of hedonistic individualism at the same time that the satisfaction of those desires has never been harder to obtain, are again explored, but here in a quite novel setting, and to a more thorough conclusion.
The novel is composed of two parallel narratives, both concerning the character of Daniel, a politically incorrect comedian who has made a carreer out of exploiting the cruelty and prejudices of the masses. The first narrative is of the life of the original human Daniel, the second concerns that of his cloned successors. The two narratives have a kind of symmetry. Whereas the human Daniel gradually loses his faith in humanity, the power of love, and his ability to obtain any kind of love, sexual or otherwise, the cloned versions of Daniel gradually emerge from a completely isolated, pain free environment, to awaken to the desire and possibility of human social and sexual contact.
The isolated world of Daniel's cloned existance seems to portray Houellebecq's vision of the logical conclusion to developments in contemporary society. Each clone lives in a secluded bubble of existance, designed to shield him from the pain and suffering that has been declared to be an inherent component of human biological life. Contact with others is made purely by e-mail, whilst outside in the real world, human society has degenerated into the level of animal savagery. The world of the cloned neo-humans is run by the 'Supreme Sister', in other words feminists have fully succeeded in their present agenda of castrating men and divorcing reproduction entirely from sex. In fact, the whole story of the cult from which the neo-humans and Daniel's immortal successors emerge could be read as an allegory of the development of human civilisation out of a primitive society dependent on basic biological needs (something which Houellebecq seems to see as being a state our present society has regressed to), to its transition to a patriarchal society based on moral aspirations, and then to one were the seemingly innate simian sexual rivalry of men is ultimately exploited by women to castrate them and take control of sexual reproduction.
For Houellebecq, human life is a sexual battle. Darwinism should be better described as 'survival of the sexiest', rather than 'survival of the fittest'. He has the honesty and the politically incorrect aptitude to recognise that all our social mores, all our moral codes, ultimately spring from the eternal Darwinian sexual battle to leave as many descendents as possible behind us.
'Contrary to recieved ideas,
Words don't create a world;
Man speaks like a dog barks
To express his anger, or his fear'
Feminism, the latest moral religion to sweep the western world, is no more than another attempt to control sexual reproduction in the interests of one particular social group. The only interesting thing about this particular morality is that this time, it has been invented for the benefit of the reproductive organs of women, or at least certain kinds of women.
Through the possibility of cloning, Houellebecq explores the hope of a human existance that has escaped from this brutal Darwinian war. Can there exist the possibility of an island, where men and women can live in happiness untouched by the brutal biological realities that turn every facet of human life into a savage battle for reproductive survival, fought by nature's cruel weapons of desire and frustration? The grim answer from Houelebecq is a resounding Schopenhaurian negative. We can never escape from our biological, animal existance and find either unconditional love or satisfaction without boredom.
Although obviously stylistically more ambitious than previous works, the writing doesn't seem quite as fluent as before, something which can presumably be accredited to the translation of Gavin Bowd (Frank Wynn haing translated 'Atomised' and 'Platform'). Also, despite having the main character as a comedian, it does seem to lack in humour compared to previous novels. Nevertheless, a briliant book. It might be that Houellebecq sticks to familar themes, but when those themes are the degradation and collapse of modern society, the hypocricy and lies that we base our contemporary society upon, and the very essence of human existance and its possibility of change, then lets hope Houellebecq continues his one man wrecking spree on the politically correct delusions of our age.