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The Map and the Territory [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Michel Houellebecq , Gavin Bowd
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 3 2012
The most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time now delivers his magnum opus—about art and money, love and friendship and death, fathers and sons.
 
The Map and the Territory is the story of an artist, Jed Martin, and his family and lovers and friends, the arc of his entire history rendered with sharp humor and powerful compassion. His earliest photographs, of countless industrial objects, were followed by a surprisingly successful series featuring Michelin road maps, which also happened to bring him the love of his life, Olga, a beautiful Russian working—for a time—in Paris. But global fame and fortune arrive when he turns to painting and produces a host of portraits that capture a wide range of professions, from the commonplace (the owner of a local bar) to the autobiographical (his father, an accomplished architect) and from the celebrated (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology) to the literary (a writer named Houellebecq, with whom he develops an unusually close relationship).
 
Then, while his aging father (his only living relative) flirts with oblivion, a police inspector seeks Martin’s help in solving an unspeakably gruesome crime—events that prove profoundly unsettling. Even so, now growing old himself, Jed Martin somehow discovers serenity and manages to add another startling chapter to his artistic legacy, a deeply moving conclusion to this saga of hopes and losses and dreams.

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Review

“Archly sarcastic, cheerily pedantic, willfully brutal.... But what remained with me of this singular novel is a powerful sense of the Houllebecquian mood, which the critic Paul Berman once characterized as ‘depressive lucidity,’ and which here consists of a heightened awareness of the impoverishment of everyday life and its landscape, along with a dammed-up pool of heartbreak.” —Judith Shulevitz, The New York Times Book Review

"Michel Houellebecq is the most interesting, provocative and important European novelist of my generation. Period. No one else comes close. He has written two or maybe three great books, and his latest, The Map and the Territory, is one of them." –Bret Easton Ellis

“A serious reflection on art, death, and contemporary society, The Map and the Territory is a tour de force….It is part crafty page-turner, part sociological inquiry, part satire, part mystery novel, part artist’s biography.  In its seamless collage of artful pastiche, the novel captures with perfect irony the tone and texture of twenty-first-century discourses, from Wikipedia articles to operating instructions, from tacky pop songs to pompous art reviews in Le Monde. In the process, it offers original insights into the museumification of contemporary France, the eerie coincidence between art and death, an exegesis of socialist writer William Morris, and meditation on art as a practice, a produce, and a business.” – Cecile Alduy, The Los Angeles Review of Books 

“Deeply amusing… A book of supreme importance, this is not to be missed.” —Library Journal

“Deadpan funny... A brilliantly astute work of social critique.” —Publishers Weekly

“A revelation for all who follow the controversial French novelist, whether they love him or loathe him.... Here he achieves a richness and resonance beyond his previous work ... a tender romance, a meditation of the function and value of art and a police procedural.... Very smart, very moving and occasionally very funny.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“A trenchant, sharp-tongued social commentator.... What kept me reading is Houellebecq’a scratchy, uncomfortable mind, his catalogue of hatreds and aversions, and the flurries of inventiveness and invective they inspire.” – Laura Kipnes, Bookforum

Praise from the UK:


“Beautifully, accurately translated.... Accessible and highly enjoyable. If ever there was a novelist for our globally dysfunctional times it’s Michel Houellebecq.... Long cast aside as the bad boy of books, [his] latest novel has seen him brought in from the cold, and embraced by the literary establishment for what he’s always been – not much short of a genius.” —The Mirror (4-star book of the week)

“One of the most important facts about Michel Houellebecq...is that he is a first-rate prose stylist….This novel was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 2010 and now, as it finally arrives in English in a finely nuanced translation by Gavin Bowd, it does not disappoint....Teasing and entertaining.... A page turner.” —Literary Review

“Very likely his best [book] ever, a serious novel about aging and death that also employs its author’s trademark lugubrious wit towards some delicious exercises in satire and self-parody.... A challenging, mature and highly intelligent book.” —The Daily Telegraph

“This is the brilliant and controversial French writer’s most intellectually ambitious book.... Funny, astonishing and authoritative.” —The Guardian

“A dark master of invention.... In a world of copycatting and fakery, Michel Houellebecq is an exceptional writer and a stand-out original.” —Evening Standard

“An astonishing writer.... The Map and the Territory is funny, shocking, brutal and unbearably poignant.... Sublime.” —Scotland on Sunday

“All novelists everywhere have benefited from [Houellebecq’s] audacity. Like Flaubert with Madame Bovary, Lawrence with Lady Chatterley’s Lover or William Burroughs with Naked Lunch, his temerity has recharged the form and reminded people what the novel can do and what latent, incendiary power it has at its disposal.” —The Sunday Times

“A great read.... A wonderfully strange and subversive enterprise.” —The Guardian

About the Author

Already honored with the Prix Novembre and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Michel Houellebecq won the Prix Goncourt for The Map and the Territory in 2010.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Holy Heck Houellebecq May 27 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Epic. The literary fortitude of this novel is daunting yet I found it a great compelling read. Quirky insights into the high-end art world and the low-down on lowly artists.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The map and the territory Sept. 19 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
A great you tongue and cheek read
Very cleverly crafted . You either love it of hate it.our book group was 75 40
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  78 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Magic Territory Jan. 9 2012
By Gary Severance - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Michel Houellebecq's fifth novel, translated from the French by Gavin Bowd, is an engrossing book that becomes increasingly integrated and satisfying as the story unfolds. The prologue places the reader in the middle of the artistic life of Jed Martin, a pale, slight, and somewhat bewildered son of a successful Parisian architect. He is similar in his non-assertive personality to Thomas Mann's character, Hans Castorp. Jed is preparing a solo exhibition in the spring of his paintings of people in a wide range of professions that capture the embodiment of the vocations. There is a potential for a top market value for these works of art. He is having difficulty with a painting of two artists whose work has become so popular that they have achieved the ArtPrice ranking of number 1 and 2 of the richest artists in the world.

The novel is divided into three parts, each dealing with the monetary and symbolic value of art. In part one, Jed's artistic development is described as being greatly influenced by his father's focus on straight lines and livable angles in architectural drawings and the beautifully designed photographic equipment of his grandfather. Jed matures from childhood drawings to photographing manufactured objects in relentless realistic detail, gradually eliminating background to focus on close-up shots. From these representations of the perfect blend of monetary value and functionality in an industrial world, Jed becomes interested in the symbols representing real objects in the environment. He photographs road maps of cities and countryside and contrasts them with their associated real world counterparts photographed from the sky. The juxtaposition of map and land, symbols and actuality are stunning in his artwork and gain high market value. Executives of a map making company pay Jed generous sums to use his work in their advertising.

In part 2, Jed becomes interested in the combination of symbol and form and tries to capture the integration of these two factors in the motivation of outstanding working individuals. Photographs do not capture this merging of human characteristics even with computerized manipulations of images. Jed realizes that only in painting can the artist fuse symbolism and realism to show the essence of human beings, to go beyond the structure of the paintings' depictions. He spends years (7 as does Hans in an Alpine sanitorium) in relative isolation attempting to perfectly capture this fusion. The subjects of the work and those who accumulate art are fascinated by the results because they see themselves as more than they thought they were, and more fascinating than they actually are. Jed becomes very rich due to supply and demand for these coveted paintings. He remains indifferent to his riches but does organize a showing of his work. In order to present the work, he needs a catalogue writer who can set the stage for the exhibition. Jed approaches the eccentric and controversial writer Michel Houellebecq to write the catalogue and listens to his concepts, theories, and disjointed aphorisms that increase with wine intake. This is reminiscent of Hans Castorp who listens with increasing interest to the wide-ranging debates of Settimbrini and Naphta as he ventures on brief trips down the mountain to the village. In this novel, the two asocial creative characters form a chaotic working relationship that leads inevitably to great financial success.

In part 3, the connection between finances, artistic production, psychological disintegration, and end of life circumstances bring some resolution to the reader. It is a nice acceptance of evitability with a conclusion that at the extremes, both financial success and failure provide the circumstances of insightful art. The vast middle ground between these extremes where most of us live involves distortions of creative views of personal experiences and restricted happiness. Representations of humanity are inextricably tied to money and social competition reducing much of human motivation to basic survival activities. Capitalism maintains this vast middle class rationalization. Jed seeks the integration of ideas he achieved in his art in his own work life history. The reader will judge if he reaches this goal just as I had to judge whether Jed Martin and Hans Castorp found something worth living for.

I really enjoyed reading this novel. Again, it produced a strange relaxation, a welcoming of unruly thoughts and circumstances and a view of an avenue to an acceptable death. From a different dimension, I experienced the same withdrawal from social determinism reading The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq as I did in reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I had a feeling of a perfect personal fit in the symbolic worlds of the two authors and a genuine reluctance to return to the mundane world of daily activity. I do not think I ever will return completely from these more interesting existences, and I certainly do not want to.
83 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reality is what's left . . . Nov. 28 2011
By William H. Payne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
With his earlier novels, Houellebecq built a tragi-comic cult around himself as the "enfant terrible" of deadpan cultural sniping and sloppy French schadenfreude. He stands in the background of his novels - a listless and derisive puppet-master - pulling the strings of his hilarious two-dimensional characters. And then WHAM! -- in this cunning novel he writes a razor sharp parable that stars none other than himself as a central character, and a simulacra of himself as a main character. Capitalist ennui and social entropy change positions from laborious thematic backdrop to front-and-center subject, and all of sudden Houellebecq has himself a 21st century version of Candide.

The M and the T is the story of an artist, Jed Martin, who produces work from a position of great detachment without really relating to or buying into the world he depicts. Like the art-world version of M. Mersault, he rubs up against his cultural milieu but never gets admitted on a human level even after he accrues a mountain of wealth. Two-thirds of the novel is magnificent allegory but (no spoilers) the final third is outstanding dark comedy.

American reviewers will, in so many words, point out that Houellebecq is not a graduate of the Iowa Writing School. In America, fiction writing is supposed to be pruned to perfection and demonstrate a subtle balance of political correctness and Shell Silverstein whimsy that, above all, showcases the writer's ability to craft a commodity for the New York Times book review set. Houellebecq achieves none of this. His plot lurches. He uses dialogue to disgorge philosophical stance. Who cares? He is as consistently allergic to cultural masquerading and social posturing as Zarathustra, and yet, he is sentimental as well. Sentence after sentence in this novel are worth saving as talismans against soullessness, and serious readers will find it worthwhile.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Houellebecq ou non Houellebecq Jan. 7 2012
By Thomas F. Dillingham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The Map and the Territory, as a title, signals a work of intellectual complexity, possibly a challenge to conventional notions of fiction and theory, possibly an epistemological or even ontological puzzle-work. From the beginning, we realize that it is about the relationship between art (all forms of art, though the central character is a photographer and painter) and whatever one might call "reality," though one is also quickly reminded of Wallace Stevens's phraseabout the difficult effort "to overcome the malady of the quotidian."

Jed Martin, the central character, has next to no personal connections with other human beings, and precious little impulse to pursue or work on creating them; like E.A. Poe's "Man of the Crowd," he is nearly invisible to others and content to be invisible in the midst of a crowd, though he is also (perhaps unwillingly) very interested in the reactions of the public to his works of art. When he becomes a famous artist, he also becomes more and more visible to others, against his will, but we realize that his visibility is so superficial--a mere surface appearance from the perspective of the viewers--that it does not qualify as any kind of knowledge. To some extent, the novel is about the limitations of the "visual culture" that we supposedly have learned to live in during the past 60 years or so.

In the course of the novel, Martin becomes acquainted with, and about to form a friendship with, a writer named Michel Houellebecq. (This is not the first time MH has made himself a character in his fiction.) That leads, fatefully, to Martin's being involved in a murder investigation and toward a surprisingly ordinary denouement
that nonetheless feels quite satisfying, in a literary sense, after so much uncertainty.

Houellebecq's fictions, including this and The Elementary Particles, most prominently, cannot be said to be similar to many other fictions, but the other two writers who regularly come to mind while reading these novels are Thomas Bernhard (Frost, The Lime Tree, and others) and Roberto Bolano (Distant Star, The Savage Detectives, even the recently published, though early work, Third Reich), and those who enjoy those writers will certainly want to take up this novel as well. They will not be disappointed.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Complex, Challenging View of the Good Life Jan. 4 2012
By Addison Dewitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
*** Spoiler Alert***

***Spoilers are in the following review***

In "The Map and the Territory," Michel Houellebecq takes us on a verbose, detailed journey through the lens of Jed Martin, a modern artist who rises to fame yet lives a solitary life nearly void of close relationships.

While I'm averse to spelling out the entire story in book report form, I ask that you bear with me for a few paragraphs in order to understand my viewpoint.

Houellebecq puts his stolid Martin in a privileged realm where fame and sales of art come easily, first through the high concept and glorification of maps (which begin his fame) and later with painted portraits of various figureheads of business.

The tale is told in three parts, the first in retrospect from the vantage of Martin's challenging life lived in a would-be garret, complete with cold floors and a rickety boiler. The second charts Martin's ascendency with the addition of agents and a typically cliché Russian lover whose beauty is legend. This middle is also where Houellebecq inserts himself into the tale, a risky move worthy of a thousand eye-rolls and is where I decided I wasn't fond of the author.

To be honest, I don't want to like Michel Houellebecq at all, as a writer or a person. As he's portrayed himself here, he's the boor at the punchbowl you want to avoid, long on wind and short on tact.

However, just when you're ready to throw a drink on him, Houellebecq uses a device to gain our sympathies: he kills himself off in the most gruesome fashion possible. The story switches focus from Martin to Houellebecq, so while we're feeling just a touch guilty for hating him, he gets to sit - as a corpse - in the spotlight and feed his ego as a maggot-covered corpse de corpus.

This tome finally finishes with the last years of Martin's life, parceled out in prose. In the end, he's an overly-wealthy recluse who dwells in pampered solitude, surrounded by security fencing and a deep forest. Eventually, he dies while doing what he loves.

The book report finished, we'll examine the writing style and the story arc.

Houellebecq is a wordy writer. Where poetry normally demands the sparse, tailored sentence, Houellebecq's style in this novel is verbose in the extreme. One wonders if he's taking advantage of the genre. Entire swaths are, in my opinion, unnecessary and do not help move the story forward nor add to it anything of pertinence. There are several examples of Houellebecq showering us with non sequiturs ranging from the life cycle of flies to the history of French auto design. They trip up the story. Details ad nauseum.

As to the actual story line, the implausibility of Martin's fame does seem real. It's just the thing that could happen in the fickle, spoiled world of high-end art. Jed is, at times, strangely rendered as an automaton. For an artist, this does not ring true for me. He let's the love of his life go without a fight. He barely registers emotion at the death of his father or his friend. And there's puzzling inconsistencies as well: He fails to get angry in most of the story, yet nearly beats an administrator at a suicide parlor to death for little or no reason.

The first two parts of this book had me riveted, but the third made me actually question the author's sanity. Part III skewers the novel, sets it on it's side and laughs. Houellebecq is either brilliant or crazy or both. In the end, I really don't know what to think of this work and perhaps this is Houellebecq's intent. To have us question not only what our opinion of "The Map" but also life itself. It almost works. And yet...
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caustic, crystalline, and virulently funny Oct. 8 2011
By STEFANO BOSCUTTI - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Houellebecq's "The Map and the Territory" is caustic, crystalline, and virulently funny. A startling story that unexpectedly becomes a crime thriller after a vicious murder. Loved the mesmerizing take on consumerism and contemporary art. Loved the marvelous depiction of the Samsung ZRT-AV2 manual. Loved the lack of simile. Made me smile when I put it down. Strangely satisfying.
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