Paris: Provocative French author Michel Houellebecq gives voice to the simmering anger behind the rural “yellow vest” revolt in his eagerly awaited, prophetic new novel which was published Friday to rave reviews.
Houellebecq, a fierce eurosceptic, became a pin-up of the far right after his last book, “Submission”, which envisioned a France subject to sharia law after electing a Muslim president in 2022.
The deeply depressed hero of his latest book “Serotonin” is an agricultural engineer who returns to his roots in a provincial France devastated by globalisation and European agricultural policies.
He finds a resentful rural populace who are “virtually dead” yet ripe for rebellion and who rise up to block motorways, much as the “yellow vest” movement has done for real since late Nov.
Houellebecq’s seventh novel, written long before protesters in high-visibility vests began barricading roads to protest against President Emmanuel Macron, has been hailed by critics as one of his best.
Flammarion publishing house has issued a first print run of 320,000 copies for the French language edition — 64 times that of the average novel.
The book, which will be published in German, Spanish and Italian next week, comes out in English in Sept.
The 62-year-old author shot to worldwide fame with nihilistic novels depicting misogynistic men trapped in loveless existences and hooked on casual sex.
The theme of Western decline runs throughout his work and his latest book is no exception.
In “Serotonin”, Houellebecq who was awarded the Legion of Honour on Jan 1 for his services to French literature, rails against politicians who “do not fight for the interests of their people but are ready to die to defend free trade”.
His hero — a typically Houellebecqian narrator called Florent-Claude Labrouste who is a thinly veiled cipher for the author — also blames feminism for what he sees as the West’s demise.
“This is how a civilisation dies, without dangers or drama and very little carnage,“ says Labrouste, a 46-year-old “dying of sadness” whose Japanese partner hates him and whose career is all but over.
In his native Normandy, where he goes in search of his ex-wife who left him when he slept with another woman, Labrouste finds factory workers being laid off and failing farmers committing suicide.
He says at one point that what is happening in France is a huge hidden plan to clear the countryside “to meet European levels… people are disappearing without ever making headlines”.
France’s L’Obs magazine has called “Serotonin” — a reference to the antidepressant the narrator takes — Houellebecq’s best book, “a beautiful work of infinite sadness”.
Germany’s Die Zeit weekly said it had long seen the “anti-liberal convictions of France’s greatest living author as a literary device”.
“Now, he must be taken seriously,“ it wrote.
Houellebecq revels in his role as literary arch-provocateur.
In October he raised eyebrows by presenting the Oswald Spengler prize, named after the German fascist philosopher who wrote “The Decline of the West”.
At the ceremony he said France should leave the euro, that “Muslims were a problem” in Europe, and it would be better if “the Catholic Church were back on top”.
In a recent essay in Harper’s Magazine, a New York-based monthly, he praised US President Donald Trump for his protectionist trade policies, calling him “one of the best American presidents”.
His last book “Submission” came out on the same day in January 2015 that jihadists attacked the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, killing 12 people, including a close friend of Houellebecq.
It immediately shot to the top of the bestseller list, selling nearly 800,000 copies in French and over half a million in German.
In Sept, the author who has written that “love makes one weak”, married Qianyum Lysis Li, a woman of Chinese origin 20 years his junior. — AFP