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Michel Houellebecq's book Whatever was a smash hit in his native France and has already gained him a cult following here. A funny, sometimes bitter, modern existentialist fable Whatever truly seems to capture the zeitgeist. Whilst his next novel Atomised showcases greater sophistication and is certainly more complex and reaching, Whatever remains a brisker, more distilled affair.
Houellebecq's clarity of style is often remarked upon and the translation does a mostly decent job of conveying, in short chapters, in a fairly staccato book, his distaste for modern life. The narrator of the novel is young (just 30), well paid (computers!) and without a love life--not a geek, nor particularly a social inadequate, rather someone who just doesn't connect. He writes strange, allegorical animal stories; is a clumsy philosophical dilettante; and finds himself bored, overly self-aware and analytical, unable to settle and settle for his life. Then he is told to go on a extended work trip training provincial civil servants in the use of a new computer system accompanied by the extremely ugly Raphael Tisserand. Throughout the novel, the cheapening of sex and intimate relationships through commodification and modern communication technology is contemplated, but the interrogation remains relatively uncommitted; the attacks on psychoanalysis come thick and fast, seem more personal and often find their target.
Houellebecq does do a good job here of exemplifying the cul-de-sac that bored intelligence often finds itself languishing in. The trouble with this as a stratagem for a novel is that the reader is in danger of caring as little for the book as the characters do for their lives; this tightrope is better walked by writers such as Beckett or even Brett Easton Ellis and navigated more successfully by Houellebecq himself in his next novel. Indeed in many ways Whatever seems like a dress rehearsal for Atomised with similar characters imbued with the same concerns, the same post nouvelle-philosophes ennui running throughout. But it is a dress rehearsal worth attending: there is more than enough clever writing here, with its mordant articulation of a very particular kind of modern unhappiness, to consider it a success. --Mark Thwaite --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The unnamed narrator of Houellebecq's novel is Marcuse's one-dimensional man. A single, 30-year-old computer engineer in Paris with no sex life, he suffers from a chronic passivity that, in Houellebecq's view, is characteristic of Generation X. He buys, but doesn't take joy in any of the things he possesses. He has acquaintances, but no friends. In his off hours he writes dialogues featuring an assortment of barnyard animals. When his company sends him and a colleague, Bernard, out to Rouen and La Roche-sur-Yon to consult on software, nothing much gets done. In Rouen he suffers from heart problems. Since Bernard visits him in the hospital, a bond develops between them. Bernard, cursed with a repulsive appearance and a horny disposition, makes obnoxious advances to every woman he sees and is predictably rejected. Sexual deprivation is the atmosphere in which these men exist. That both men see women only in terms of their sexual features makes their impotence even more pathetic. After breaking up with his last girlfriend two years ago, the narrator has withdrawn from the romantic arena. And yet he has developed an intricate and mean-spirited, if ill-defined, theory of sexual hierarchy. The loose narrative condenses to an action sequence when the narrator tries to get Bernard to murder a woman with a steak knife, but the incident is gratuitous. In the end, Houellebecq displays none of the novelist's eye for detail and, further, defaults on the development of a vital main character, who might have connected this series of threadbare incidents into an interesting social comment. (Jan.) FYI: A bestseller in France, this novel won the 1995 Prix Flore for best first novel.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The main character in this book shouts a cynical diatribe against sexual and economical liberalism, wherein men and women are painted as disgusting, decrepit adolescents. Read morePublished on Feb. 6 2004 by Luc REYNAERT
The main character in this book gives us a cynical diatribe against sexual and economical liberalism, wherein men and women are painted as disgusting, decrepit adolescents. Read morePublished on Feb. 3 2004 by Luc REYNAERT
some of the English in here reads like the publisher fed the French version into an online translator like Babelfish...this really ruined an otherwise brilliant book for me...Published on June 11 2003 by Amazon Customer
He writes well about people feeling isolated and misunderstood
in the world. I will give him that. But this book hardly lives
up to The Elementary Particles. Read more
I've read this little novella twice, both in fits of insomnia, while lamenting the loss of my girlfriend. Read morePublished on March 31 2001 by James Liu
The cover art is horrible. The title doesn't fit. And the writing is just plain bad. Douglas Coupland does a much better job on the subject of alienation in modern society -- and... Read morePublished on Feb. 9 2001 by Troy McCullough
It's the shout of a weary man crying for help, disguising it as "black humour". It is not a "deeply philosophical novel" - of course it has some reality-driven... Read morePublished on Nov. 29 2000 by Andrea
When I read a book, I expect to have fun, or to feel emotions. Perhaps I am a fan of Ovid, who describes beautiful and seductive ladies.
What about Houellebecq? Read more