14 November 2019, The Tablet

It comes as a surprise to learn that Michel Houellebecq has never been baptised

It comes as a surprise to learn that Michel Houellebecq has never been baptised

Late as ever, I’ve only just finished Michel Houelle­becq’s Serotonin – in its English translation by Shaun Whiteside – which I hesitate to write about on the basis that I should do my best to keep it from decent readers on account of its dispiriting but graphic sex, including paedophilia and bestiality. Impurity doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But as ever, he well and truly set the cat among the pigeons, anticipating the gilets jaunes protests in a fashion that would seem downright uncanny if it weren’t that the novelist has form in identifying social and spiritual signs of the times. The novel is about the nihilism of its narrator, but one contributory cause of his depression is the despair of French dairy farmers whose livelihoods count as nothing against the EU dogma of free trade.

Another is that he is incapable of stable marriage: he does not propose to the most appealing of his girlfriends lest domesticity should ruin her career, the totem of males of his age. She leaves him after he engages in yet another fleeting relationship and, when he eventually finds her, she has had a child by the only means available to her, a passing sexual encounter with a near stranger.

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