Provocative French novelist Houellebecq (Platform, 2003, etc.) extends his social critique to embrace cult religions, aging, cloning and the apocalypse.
The author’s latest is grounded in characteristic territory: a sexual odyssey narrated by a scathing assessor of contemporary social mores. Forty-something Daniel has built a fat career and fortune “on the commercial exploitation of bad instincts, of the West’s absurd attraction to cynicism and evil,” via outrageous comedy sketches, films and rap records. He and his gorgeous wife Isabelle opt to withdraw from our “savage world, populated by cruel and stupid people,” and move to an isolated estate in Spain. But her drooping flesh and growing professional irrelevance kill the marriage, although the couple will share custody of their dog, Fox. Daniel becomes involved with a religious sect, the Elohim, which seeks immortality and advocates sexual self-indulgence, the Cretan diet and scientific research into the creation of artificial human life. Daniel’s own virility is restored by sluttish Esther, 25 years his junior, with whom sexual rapture and very occasional conversation evolve, for him, into love. But the inevitable end of the affair brings about Daniel’s ultimate humiliation and eventual suicide. His chapters alternate with briefer ones narrated two millennia later by products of the Elohim’s efforts at recreating copies of its believers. Daniel 24, then 25, are “neohumans” living—minus tears, laughter, sex and suffering—in the same Spanish compound as their original, with clones of Fox, while hordes of savages (survivors of atomic catastrophes and the Great Dry Up) howl and die outside the protective fence. Houellebecq’s philosophical pronouncements and sardonic, sometimes sentimental assertions about love, belief and humanity (the fake humans easily outclass the real ones) touch predictable buttons.
A verbose novel of crushing ideas, ostentatious carnality and deep misanthropy that fail to connect.