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The Elementary Particles Paperback – Nov 13 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New title edition (Nov. 13 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727019
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727016
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #53,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The first of July 1998 fell on a Wednesday, so although it was a little unusual, Djerzinski organized his farewell party for Tuesday evening. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Othon Leon on Dec 10 2007
Format: Hardcover
Monsieur Houllebecq clearly understands things that most people refuses to even see; the incredible way in which he describes today's life in Europe (and most parts of Western developed societies) trapped my intellect and transported me into France, the US and the UK with mixed feelings of "no way out", "fascination", "pleasure", "pain", etc... The way he "conects" characters with exact and social sciences is superb. Treatment of death as the ultimate result no matter what, perfect. His idea of loneliness as a consequence of superficiality, shocking. Definitely, a mirror in which not always you want to take a look; a great book from a very intelligent author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Nov. 22 2000
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviewer who said that reading this book was sort of like taking a particularly bitter pill. I sacrificed any chances of a good mood for the week I spent reading this book. I was haunted by the images of physical decay, moral corruption, and sexual perversity that Houellebecq so starkly portrays. The more I read, the clearer it became to me that most writers publishing in America don't dare to tackle big ideas. However flawed The Elementary Particles might be, the fact that Houellebecq confronts not only scientific progress and philosophical schools of thought, but also death, sickness, gender and sex in the most universal sense, shows such courage and vision that I can't help thinking this novel is genius. The glimmer of hope offered by the cryptic last pages ("the future is feminine") actually does lift away some of the bleakness, without taking away from the overall seriousness. Houellebecq also has a grim sense of humor that I enjoyed. I'm not surprised this hasn't received more attention in the U.S. I wish that weren't true. Maybe then American writers (or more precisely, American publishers) might find the courage to compete with this guy. The bar has been raised.
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By JOHN J. MCGRAW on May 5 2004
Format: Hardcover
While I enjoyed reading this book, I am, in retrospect, a bit unimpressed. The book has some fine ideas and the occasionally raucous observation that will cause the reader to burst out in laughter. In general, though, it seems poorly organized and portrays a postmodern perspective that is just a bit too decentralized and pessimistic to keep one genuinely engaged.
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.
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Format: Paperback
First, a quote from Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy," the spirit of which I'd swear animates this novel...
"...An old legend has it that King Midas hunted a long time in the woods for the wise Silenus, companion of Dionysos, without being able to catch him. When he had finally caught him the king asked him what he considered man's greatest good. The daemon remained sullen and uncommunicative until finally, forced by the king, he broke into a shrill laugh and spoke: "Ephemeral wretch, begotten by accident and toil, why do you force me to tell you what it would be your greatest boon not to hear? What would be best for you is quite beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best is to die soon."
Ok- here's the deal. Either you go in for the bleak, unredemptive, unflinching view of humanity and existence, or you don't. I loved this book. It cut me to the bone and I was glad for it. Houellebecq takes apart our desires, our dreams, our age, all our petty cultural trappings- and exposes them for the broken props that they are. Even The sci-fi bookends of the novel didn't grate too badly, though it ended abruptly.
Houellebecq presents a worldview that only a scabrous, self-hating continental intellectual could craft so well. And thank Doug for that! This is a nihilistic work of highest caliber, a descendant of Celine (though H's misanthropy and nihilism aren't the same strain of gleeful, musical hate as Celine's), Hamsun and Huysmans. So be warned, all is not roses and puppy dogs. Humanity, nature, the world in which we live are reviled in a variety of insights, characters and plotlines, none of which end happily.
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By urileo on Jan. 9 2004
Format: Paperback
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. The sex scenes were unecessary, but hey, only weenies would complain about too many sex scenes. And they are funny.
2) the emotionally raw, completely uninhibited subject matter is... unforgettable, and even though this book has a reputation for being 'a blowtorch', Houllebecq is equally skilled at showing heart, and deep humanity. The description of Bruno's adolescence and the universal desire for human connection and genetic validation was deftly, masterfully handled. This book needed to be written, and Houllebecq had the balls to do it. People who call this book immature for dealing with such powerful emotional territory, or worse yet, those who dismiss this as adolescent banter need to take as long look in the mirror; maybe the book hit a little TOO close to home? Hmmm? This book is imminently compassionate in it's 'harsh cruelty'. It also makes the author out to be an interesting character. Can't wait to read Platform.
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