Summary and book reviews of Submission by Michel Houellebecq

Submission

by Michel Houellebecq

Submission by Michel Houellebecq X
Submission by Michel Houellebecq
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sinéad Fitzgibbon
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About this Book

Book Summary

Michel Houellebecq's new book may be satirical and melancholic, but it is also hilarious, a comic masterpiece by one of France's great novelists.

It's 2022. François is bored. He's a middle-aged lecturer at the New Sorbonne University and an expert on J. K. Huysmans, the famous nineteenth-century Decadent author. But François's own decadence is considerably smaller in scale. He sleeps with his students, eats microwave dinners, rereads Huysmans, queues up YouPorn.

Meanwhile, it's election season. And although Francois feels "about as political as a bath towel," things are getting pretty interesting. In an alliance with the Socialists, France's new Islamic party sweeps to power. Islamic law comes into force. Women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged, and François is offered an irresistible academic advancement - on the condition that he convert to Islam.

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker has said of Submission that "Houellebecq is not merely a satirist but - more unusually - a sincere satirist, genuinely saddened by the absurdities of history and the madnesses of mankind." Michel Houellebecq's new book may be satirical and melancholic, but it is also hilarious, a comic masterpiece by one of France's great novelists.

I

A noise recalled him to Saint-Sulpice; the choir was leaving; the church was about to close. "I should have tried to pray," he thought. "It would have been better than sitting here in the empty church, dreaming in my chair—but pray? I have no desire to pray. I am haunted by Catholicism, intoxicated by its atmosphere of incense and candle wax. I hover on its outskirts, moved to tears by its prayers, touched to the very marrow by its psalms and chants. I am revolted with my life, I am sick of myself, but so far from changing my ways! And yet … and yet … however troubled I am in these chapels, as soon as I leave them I become unmoved and dry. In the end," he told himself, as he rose and followed the last ones out, shepherded by the Swiss guard, "in the end, my heart is hardened and smoked dry by dissipation. I am good for nothing." —J.-K. Huysmans, En route

Through all the years of my sad youth Huysmans remained a companion, a faithful friend; never once did I doubt ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. As you read the epigraph from J. K. Huysmans's novel En route, what route did you expect Submission to take? What makes Huysmans an ironic choice for François's research, despite the many parallels in their lives? What makes a professor of literature an ideal person to narrate this novel?
  2. How did your opinion of François shift as he recounted his experience? What traits make him an effective storyteller?
  3. In Submission, is Michel Houellebecq satirizing only the French intelligentsia? Do you notice the same points being raised in American political life?
  4. If Submission had been set in America, would Ben Abbes's election have produced the same cultural transformations? How would higher education change if ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Despite the controversial subject matter, and Houellebecq's well-established reputation as an agent provocateur, there is no hysterical scaremongering to be found in this novel. It is a thoughtful, considered, well-informed imagining of an Islamic France. The religion itself and its leaders are, if anything, portrayed in a largely positive light. The reintroduction of religion into the everyday lives of the French people is an antidote to the widespread dissatisfaction, loneliness and lack of fulfilment that had been engendered by decades of living in a shallow consumerist society. That said, Houellebecq doesn't shy away from the less desirable consequences of living in an Islamic state, particularly for women. It is an augury, a feasible portent, a herald of a "maybe" future, with the author its possibly prescient avant-courier. More than anything, for good or ill, this is very much a book for our times...continued

Full Review (960 words).

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(Reviewed by Sinéad Fitzgibbon).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
The narration is enjoyably sardonic, a pungent mixture of deadpan jokes about sexual politics and close reading...Darkly clever and funny.

The New Statesman (UK)
A diligent, even-tempered novel of ideas.

Evening Standard (UK)
A work of real literary distinction...[Houellebecq] has been the novelist who has most fearlessly and presciently tackled the rise of Islamic extremism in recent years...He is a writer with a gift for telling the truth, unlike any other in our time - I've been consistently saying he is the writer who matters most to me for many years now...There is nobody else writing now more worth reading.

The Spectator (UK)
A fine, deeply literary work...It is genuinely more admiring than critical of Islam...It's electrifying; no recent English-language novel compares.

Library Journal
Compelling - challenging even - for readers looking for a clever book with a philosophical bent and antithetical to, or perhaps an antidote to, beach reading.

Kirkus Reviews
True, it won't make ISIS's holiday reading list, and it will offend cultural-relativist pieties. Still, though clunky and obvious, it's well worth reading as a modern work of literature engage.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This novel is not a paranoid political fantasy; it merely contains one. Houellebecq's argument becomes an investigation of the content of ideology, and he has written an indispensable, serious book that returns a long-eroded sense of consequence, immediacy, and force to contemporary literature.

Le Monde (France)
Extraordinary... if there is anyone in literature today, not just in French but worldwide, who is thinking about the sort of enormous shifts we all feel are happening, it's him.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Michel Houellebecq in Profile

Michel Houellebecq Michel Houellebecq (pronounced mish-elle wellbeck) is nothing if not an autobiographical writer. He has, in fact, become the poster child for a movement, prevalent in contemporary French literature, known as "auto-fiction" which sees authors unashamedly use fictionalized versions of their own lives in their novels. Autobiographical writing is addressed directly in Submission (fittingly through the protagonist, François). "An author is above all a human being, present in his books," he says, "and whether he writes well or very badly hardly matters as long as he gets the books written and is, indeed, present in them." François goes on to say that "to love a book is to love its author: we want to meet him again, we want to spend ...

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