I spent three months reading Kristen Lavransdatter. Sometime in the middle of the third book I went from reading for pleasure, to being in a grudge match with fictional medieval Norway.
I needed to cleanse my brain palate.
Something ultra modern. Something short.
Michel Houellebecq’s Submission sounded both short and ultra modern.
I saw some ridiculous article about it in the Guardian, shortly after the Paris attacks. It’s a book that has been widely condemned as sexist and Islamophobic, written by a singularly miserable-looking troll of a Frenchman.
The dude looks like he was born smoking and sneering.
I figured at the very least I could build up a good frothy fountain of ultra modern outrage.
Instead, I got a book that is strangely haunting.
The main character/apparent author insertion, named François for maximum on-the-nose everyman impact, is thoroughly detestable. Humbert Humbert detestable, really. He is the single-serving, monadic manchild we’ve been warned about. He lives a life of fleeting pleasures-food, booze, and sex. His only real friend is a mental projection of J. K. Huysmans formed from his own fannish, academic narcissism.
This dude is basically the embodiment of the internet-based postmodern personality. Isolated, emotionally stunted, obsessive. Ultimately really boring.
Which is why the book is haunting. As terrible as François is, I’d like to think he doesn’t really exist. Or, if he does exists, it’s just in the figure of Michel Houellebecq.
Ten million Redditors beg to differ.
This guy is everywhere. It’s not that he’s stupid. He’s just hollow.
The book is set in 2022, and the story set during an Islamist takeover of France. The politics are interesting, I suppose, but it’s not particularly realistic.
The argument, it seems, is that Islam is ascendant, because it is, theoretically, anchored in meaning. Tradition. A place in the cosmic order.
However, the book ends on such a cynical note, that it’s nearly breathtaking. For all the critiquing of post-modernity and it’s failures, this version of savior Islam, in the early states of it’s “Eurabian Empire” proves that Islam succumbs to meaningless hedonism as easily as anything else.
Basically, the argument appears to be that there is just no escaping nihilism in the 21st century. Not for François, the Islamic world, for the West, or anyone else. Even if Islam “wins,” it loses.