Michel Houellebecq He has done it again. Genius of contemporary lyrics for ones and overrated phenomenon media-literary for others, Houellebecq has an undeniable nose to capture what the Germans call the zeitgeist: The spirit of the times.
His novel Platform, which included an attack in Thailand, was published one month before September 11, 2001 and one year before a similar attack in Bali. Submission, where I imagined a France ruled by an Islamist, arrived at the bookstores the same day of the terrorist attack against the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, in January 2015.
In his new fiction, Serotonin (Anagram, in Spanish and Catalan), one of the central scenes is the blocking of a motorway by farmers in anger against Paris, "which like all cities [está] made to engender loneliness, "and the European Union, a" great whore ", in the words of the protagonist.The protest ends in a bloody confrontation with the police, as if the Houellebecquiano seismographer had anticipated the yellow vests, the revolt of the impoverished middle classes that has convulsed France in the last month. Serotonin It goes on sale on January 4.
Despair in provincial France -desertified and dechristianized, as the narrator describes it- is one of the themes covered in this sordid and pessimistic novel, the first-person story of the disintegration of a man and perhaps of a civilization.
"Everyone, as usual, condemned the violence, deplored the tragedy and extremism of certain agitators; but, also, there was an inconvenience in the political leaders, a discomfort very unusual in them, none did not stop emphasizing that, up to a certain point, it was necessary to understand the despair and the anger of the farmers ", says the narrator after an orgy of explosions and shots on the A13 highway that left 12 dead. His words seem traced of those that these days have been heard in France after the manifestations of yellow vests, with burning cars and shops and monuments looted in Paris, or tolls set on highways.
The protagonist and narrator is Florent-Claude Labrouste, former employee of the Ministry of Agriculture, 46 years old, a man in the last, deeply alone and unhappy, "in the stadium where the animal aged, mortally wounded and feeling mortally beaten, he looks for a refuge to end his life ", as he defines himself.The doctor prescribes Captorix, a medicine that increases the secretion of serotonin, a substance produced by the human body," a hormone ", Labrouste explains," linked to the self-esteem, recognition within the group ".
In the style between trepidante and deslavazado of the novels of Houellebecq, the novel develops in three planes. One, the biography of Labrouste, told through the relationship with Claire, an unsuccessful actress, and with Camille, a veterinarian who is the love of her life. Two, his descent into the underworld when, at a time that he describes as contemporary with the presidency of Emmanuel Macron in France, he decides to leave his job, his apartment and his Japanese girlfriend to live incognito in a hotel in a secluded neighborhood of Paris. And three, its terminal phase, an inconcrete future from which it tells its history.
All this, in a landscape of hotels, roads and shopping malls -the ugly France- and punctuated with barracks expressions and provocations typical of cocktail bar, which are the author's mark, as the graphic sexual descriptions to epatar (there are scenes of bestiality and pedophilia). But also truffled aphorisms and maxims in the best tradition of classical moralists. "Men in general do not know how to live, they do not have any true familiarity with life," he says, "they never quite feel comfortable in it, so they pursue different projects, more or less ambitious, more or less grandiose depends, in general, clear they are unsuccessful and conclude that it would have been better, simply to live, but in general it is also too late ".
Houellebecq is not an ideologist, he is a novelist. And it is dangerous to confuse the voice of the narrator with that of the author. They are not always the same and Houellebecq plays with this ambiguity. Does the author endorse what the narrator says, his xenophobia, his classism, his sexism? Or parody it? The vision of the world, in any case, is consistent with those of his previous novels, although the obsession with Islam is absent this time. And it is a vision that could be described as reactionary, a literary and more talented version of the arguments of the polemicist Éric Zemmour, whom Houellebecq cited, in an article in defense of Donald Trump, as a victim in France of "a game of hunting" for his antiprogressive opinions. The decay and unhappiness of Labrouste are that of the white man, that of France and that of the West: "Here is how a civilization dies, without being disturbed, without dangers or dramas, nor too many massacres, a civilization dies by fatigue, by disgust of herself".
The Houellebecq of Serotonin, or rather Labrouste, is not a cynic or an unbeliever. Believe, and this is where, beyond its documentary value on this time - the Houellebecquiano seismograph - the novel enters into a philosophical terrain. Believe in God, "a mediocre scriptwriter" because "everything in his creation bears the mark of approximation and error, if not of pure and simple evil". It is not that God has died in the world of Houellebecq, it is that God ignores this world or the world ignores God. But emptiness is not total: love remains. Houellebecq romantic? "The outside world was hard, ruthless with the weak, almost never fulfilled its promises, and love was still the only thing in which you could still, perhaps, have faith."
The first scenes of Serotonin, the new novel by Michel Houellebecq, happen in Spain. At a gas station near Almería, the protagonist meets two young women who identify with the "outraged". "The female of the indignant was an indignant? Had she been in the presence of two enraged ladies? "He asks. The narrator spends a few days in a complex of naturist apartments frequented by retirees from northern Europe. "There were people a bit like me, but worse, to the extent that I was twenty or thirty years older than me and for them the verdict had been issued and they had been defeated." On the way back to Paris, spend the night in the hostel of Chinchón. The episode gives rise, in the houellebecquiana fiction, to a praise of Franco as "true inventor, worldwide, of the tourism with charm"And at the same time mass tourism. "Think of Benidorm! Think of Torremolinos! "He says. Franco, adds the narrator, "was really a real tourism giant, and it is in this light that he will end up revaluing it, in fact, it was already beginning to be in some Swiss hotel schools and more generally, in the economic sphere, the Francoism had recently been the object of interesting works at Harvard and at Yale. "