Atomised – Voulez vous doucher avec Andy ce soir? Non? Pas penseJuly 26, 2015
Michel Houellebecq’s International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award-winning Atomised was my choice. I’d read a bit about the writer, renowned as a politically incorrect, misanthropic, misogynist writer with a taste for filth and the grimmer, grimier outposts of continental existentialism. Maybe we’ll hate it, I said to Netty, maybe we’ll hate it but maybe we’ll enjoy hating it. Maybe we’ll LOVE hating it! What fun!
Funnily enough I think the Irish do a much better job of having fun with the grimmer, grimier outposts of continental existentialism than the French. Ireland, funnily enough, being where Hollaback or whatever his name is lives. Or was living when my edition of Atomised was published.
Yes, making fun of people’s names is racist and cheap and offensive – and more importantly, unoriginal. But I’m afraid, once again, you’ve mistaken me for someone who gives a fuck.
Atomised is the story of – oh Christ, do I even have to do this? So it’s half-brothers who first meet in late adolescence (I think). One of them turns out to be some sort of extremely clever sciency sort of person with a totally fucked-up personal life. The other one turns out not to be some sort of extremely clever sciency sort of person with a totally fucked-up personal life. By which I mean he isn’t sciency, but he does have a totally fucked-up personal life.
Michel (Oh goodness! Someone else has that name! Who was that again?) is the extremely clever sciency one, and that’s all you need to know about him. Bruno is the not-sciency one and it’s Bruno’s fucked-up personal life that gives this novel its single redeeming feature. Not for the reason Hoolahoop intends though – the sexual debaucheries and depravities Bruno stoops to (or imagines himself stooping to) are supposed to show modern humanity in all our excretal, meaningless, content-free humiliation. What they actually show is that once in a while the French write something just amusing enough to keep their readers interested. Or just interesting enough to keep their readers amused. Either way: just.
And then, in his novel’s closing pages, Hackensack decides he’s a science-fiction writer. Really? No. Fuck off, merci.
It’s conceivable that I might have responded more positively to Hobblestock’s ,most highly regarded work if its cover, at least the cover of the edition that I bought secondhand for ten bucks TEN FUCKING BUCKS THAT’S A FUCKING PINT FOR FUCK’S SAKE didn’t feature a picture of a semi-naked naif (or possibly nymph, or possibly nymphomaniac) wearing a pair of extraordinarily unfashionable underpants and boasting a pair of quite possibly quite decent (if you like that sort of thing) knockers, nipples obscured by the book’s title. Conceivable, in that not-remotely-conceivable sort of way.
I didn’t hate Atomised. It isn’t worth hating. I even got some vague. perverse pleasure out of some of it. But to be frank the French (do you see what I did there?) made a more substantial contribution to world literature with Ca plane pour moi = and Plastic Bertrand was Belgian, and he didn’t even sing the song. Which is the sort of wry meta-existential fact (if “wry meta-existential fact” isn’t an oxymoron) (actually no, it’s just bad English, sorry) that leaves me with a smile on my face. Something I’m afraid Haagendasz, or whatever his name is, did not.