- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; New title edition (Nov. 13 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375727019
- ISBN-13: 978-0375727016
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 227 g
- Average Customer Review: 58 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #50,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Elementary Particles Paperback – Nov 13 2001
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"An original work of art–ironic, intelligent and as airtight and elegant as a geometry proof."
--The New York Times Magazine
"[A] brilliant novel of ideas... [A] riveting novel by a deft, observant writer."
--The Wall Street Journal
"Fearless, vivid and astringently honest…surprisingly funny... [C]an permanently change how we view things that happened in our own lives. Not many novels can do that."
--Los Angeles Times
From the Inside Flap
An international literary phenomenon, The Elementary Particles is a frighteningly original novel-part Marguerite Duras and part Bret Easton Ellis-that leaps headlong into the malaise of contemporary existence.
Bruno and Michel are half-brothers abandoned by their mother, an unabashed devotee of the drugged-out free-love world of the sixties. Bruno, the older, has become a raucously promiscuous hedonist himself, while Michel is an emotionally dead molecular biologist wholly immersed in the solitude of his work. Each is ultimately offered a final chance at genuine love, and what unfolds is a brilliantly caustic and unpredictable tale.
Translated from the French by Frank Wynne.
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I liked the novel of ideas underneath the posturing surface of sex, drugs, rock n'roll. I barely noticed any explicitness in the content--but as I'm the same age as MH, maybe we're unshockable--part of the author's point, no? Again, the distance of translation must be acknowledged--in French perhaps his prose slaps you harder? (3 1/2 stars in English, therefore...)
What leaves an impression with me months later is the longing for transcendence that the novel conveys. In fact, the conclusion moved me greatly, and I'm about as sentimental as MH (or at least as he claims to be in his press kit). MH captures a contemporary yearning for fulfillment that many readers might flinch from--the lonely keyboardist being a figure all too familiar to online bibliophiles. I would have liked 90% of the novel to have focused upon the reformation of the world rather than only in the end chapter within which such interesting visions are locked. (Parts of the conclusion reminded me of the Fritjof Capra talkathon film "Mindwalk"--for all the pluses and minuses that brings--the philospohical dia/trialogue borrowed from Galileo for our New Age, and another French setting!) True, there'd be less lucrative raunch, but more nourishing content. The manifesto quality of this chapter shows in fact that MH's true skill might lie more in social criticism than fiction, but that's a genre that sells even worse, and is less likely to grab profiles in the NY Times Magazine--which is how I first heard of MH, after all!
MH has lamented the effort put into his first novel, Whatever, when it failed to arouse the lumpenintellectualariat against the consumer cyber age all we amazonians admittedly enjoy. But I'd counter that the debates raised on this website show how much his critique rouses exactly the debate he'd earlier hoped for...
Houellebecq uses the lives of two half-brothers, Michel and Bruno, to examine the condition of the individual in modern, liberal, free-market Western society. Bruno's private life has been a nightmare since his school days when he underwent brutal sexual abuse by other boys: his adult life has been characterised by obsession with, and frustration by, sex. Michel's life, on the other hand, is starkly different. He is a cold, isolated individual, more absorbed by his studies than by forming realtionships with other human beings.
Michel and Bruno's lives are the damaged products, according to Houellebecq, of modern Western society, a society in which economic and social individualism is the dominant theme. The old inclusive values which knitted society together have been dispensed with. The fact that individuals are left to their own devices stips away their humanity, leaving them little better than animals - a sort of social Darwinism in economic, social and sexual terms.
This is a deeply condemnatory and pessimistic novel. I can't speak for the English translation, but the original French version is often a chore to read: Houellebecq's style is frequently preachy - the sections of lighter prose (such as Bruno's time at the Lieu de Changement) are offset by far heavier sections.
It is a condemnatory novel (beware if you were ever a hippy), and could be criticised for starting from a false assumption that individuals lived happier lives and society as a whole was better in the past: that the argument centred on the loss of religious values leading to a second fall from grace doesn't really stand up to close examination. But, it's still a worthwhile read (despite its faults) in that it really does make a case for challenging the assumption that the market-based, consumer-is-king society we've come to live in really is the best we can manage. Surely, the question is worth posing?
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