The Elementary Particles Paperback – Nov 13 2001
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Bruno and Michel are half-brothers, born to a hippie mother who believed in following her bliss. As boys they live in ignorance of each other--at one point attending the same school without knowing of their blood connection. As grown men they're not truly close, but they occasionally phone each other late at night. Bruno's a hopeless sexual obsessive, often drunk or on his way there, and Michel's a molecular biologist, distant and inaccessible.
Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles follows these brothers through the latter half of the 20th century. Bruno and Michel are buffeted by history, vessels of disappointment and desire rocked by the ocean of time. Shuttled away to a boarding school where he's sexually abused by other boys, Bruno grows up full of twisted sexual longings and a contempt for aging women so palpable that at times it's stomach-churning. At a commune in the country, Bruno takes stock:
The women were intolerable at breakfast, but by cocktail hour the mystical tarts were hopelessly vying with younger women once again. Death is the great leveler. On Wednesday afternoon he met Catherine, a fifty-year-old who had been a feminist of the old school. She was tanned, with dark curly hair; she must have been very attractive when she was twenty. Her breasts were still in good shape, he thought when he saw her by the pool, but she had a fat ass.Michel doesn't hate women; he doesn't even notice them. Instead of leering at bodies by the pool, he stares at particles in microscopes. He wins prizes for his experiments, but never experiences the rush of life. For both men, the damage has been done by history, by mother, before the story begins. What interests Houellebecq are the permutations and recapitulations of damage--the way the particles of the self can never be completely reconstituted. --Emily White --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Houellebecq's controversial novel, which caused an uproar in France last year, finally reaches our shores. Whether it will make similar waves here remains to be seen, but its coolly didactic themes and schematic characterizations keep it from transcending faddish success. The story follows two half brothers, Michel Djerzinski and Bruno Cl ment. They have in common a minor Messalina of a mother, Janine Ceccaldi, who contributed most effectively to their upbringing by abandoning them--Bruno to his maternal grandmother, and Michel to Janine's second husband's mother. Bruno's is the harder life. Abused by fellow students at a boarding school, he grows into a perpetually horny adolescence, his sexual advances always rebuffed because he is ugly and devoid of personal charm. He spends the '70s and '80s exposing himself to young girls or masturbating. After his first marriage fails, he meets Christiane at an "alternative" vacation compound with a reputation for free love, and together they embark on a tawdry swingers' odyssey. Meanwhile, Michel (whose story is told in counterpoint) is so emotionally remote that he is unable to kiss his first girlfriend, the astonishingly beautiful Annabelle. In college, he loses sight of her and devotes himself to science, finally becoming a molecular biologist. Then, at 40, he meets Annabelle again. However, as Houellebecq puts it, "In the midst of the suicide of the West, it was clear that they had no chance." Once death cheats both Bruno and Michel of happiness, Michel develops the basis for eliminating sex by cloning humans. The novel is burdened throughout with Houellebecq's message, which equates sex with consumerism and ever darker fates. The writer also upholds the madonna-whore polarization, pigeonholing his female characters with tiresome predictability. Still, it isn't the ideology that hampers the narrative--it is Houellebecq's touted scientific theorizing, which, far from covering fresh ground, resorts to the shibboleths of popular science. Houellebecq is disgusted with liberal society, but his self-importance and humorlessness overwhelm his characters and finally will tax readers' patience. 40,000 first printing. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
As a friend observed, the book seems less a novel than a loosely-structured narrative that allows the author to espouse some of his ideas in a set of eccentric essays. These tend to be interesting but would probably be better formatted a la Montaigne.
In considering all the various characters, you'll recognize at the end that not a one 'wins.' Every single character has ended up unhappy, dead, or in despair. Such is the author's prerogative but it conveys what may well be his primary intention: a reactionary longing for a world with fixed meanings and authority; a pre-revolutionary France where God and King rule side by side. Certainly a common, but naive, solution to a state of crisis.
What makes the novel unique is its fusion of high ideas and base sexuality. Rarely does one encounter such juxtaposition; and while it is not truly appealing, it gives the book a certain freshness.
I found the end to be almost a non-sequitir, a sort of sci-fi tag-on that seems out of place and somewhat ridiculous.
Beautifully written, with great twists and turns. The sex scenes are handled deftly, as are the myriad (and I mean myriad) analogies for the human condition taken from phyiscs, biology, quantum mechanics, chemistry...
I don't know. Language fails me. I wanted to provide some ballast for the more negative reviews here. People are entitled to their opinions, but how anyone could not be moved by this book- I could almost hear Barber's adagio for air (yes, the one from Platoon) luminously echoing through many of the scenes.
Like the book says, in its final lines, it is dedicated to mankind. I think it lives up to that ideal, and is a worthy monument and testament to humanity.
First of all, this book's mission is to convince you that humanity is an absurd, endlessly tragic farce and that everyone dies miserable and full of regret. Modern life (make no mistake about it, OUR modern life) is just the latest manifestation of humanity's cruelty towards itself and most people are either hideously evil professional victimizers or helpless, introverted perverts.
That being said, I'd like to focus on what "The Elementary Particles" is REALLY trying to say about society and people. This story is about two brothers who are as much products of their society as characters in their own right. But I think Bruno is, in a sense, the more important character. What does his experience tell us? According to the back cover of the book itself, Bruno is "a raucous, promiscuous hedonist and a failure at everything." In the book he is consistently portrayed as a vile character. But Houllebecq makes it difficult to overlook the horrors that shape him. He is violently sexually molested at a boy's school, he watches helplessly as his mother slowly goes insane, he grows up detested by girls. His life is one torment after another - he knows nothing except fear and powerlessness. So he grows up, through the 70s into the 80s and 90s, and becomes infintely cynical - devoid of compassion for anyone, compassion that he was denied. But what happens to Bruno just as he approaches his mid-life crisis - and what makes this book so undeniably beautiful - is that, without expecting it at all, he receives a chance at the love he's been denied his entire life. Why should this be haled as a particularly brilliant literary moment?Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Houellebecq approaches our malaise from the standpoints of philosophy, biology, physics, cultural critique, personal history and sexual pathology. Read morePublished on Oct. 25 2009 by T. McDonell
This work caught my attention for numerous reasons. It is a contemporary novel addressing the various malaises of modernity, and at first glance seemed like an interesting... Read morePublished on July 30 2005 by Anthropology Professor
Consider classical french prose, from Corneille, Proust, Camus, Sartre, Racine...consider then clasical political thought of French, from Rousseau to Derrida and Lacan... Read morePublished on May 9 2004 by Matko Vladanovic
Every now and then, a novel comes along that reminds us that the novel does not have to be the genteel commodity that dominates bookstore shelves--sold like Martha Steward's towels... Read morePublished on April 26 2004
but also an engrossing, deft, (and most-importantly) WELL-WRITTEN book! The way Michel can slide so easily from character description to his sundry ruminations on humanity- he... Read morePublished on April 10 2004 by mandy knowles
In this anything but escapist post-modern novel a dark view of the human condition reigns supreme (and is often supremely funny). Read morePublished on March 6 2004
First, a quote from Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy," the spirit of which I'd swear animates this novel...
"... Read more
This is truly a spectacular book. As with some other reviewer, I found the book "un-put-down-able". Read morePublished on Jan. 10 2004 by V. Nagaswamy
This is a five star book IMO because:
1) it is tremendously engaging, and even it's 'flaws' and uneven flow just made it better. Read more