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  • Michel Houellebecq who was awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2010 for his novel La Carte et le Territoire, is, arguably the most talented French modern novelist around, but without argument, the most infamous. He has never hidden his hostility towards the French media and the critics and they have responded in kind; he found living in France intolerable and for a number of years after his divorce, lived in Ireland; he now lives in Spain. He seems to exult in his position as the enfant terrible of French literature, a provocateur; why else would he hold his cigarette like in the pic, like Hollywood Nazi villains?

    He was born in Reunion Island, where his mother Lucie still lives, which is at a stone’s throw from my native Mauritius.

    He is better known for other things than his books; he has opinions which many find shocking. Indeed he was taken to court a few years ago for saying in an interview that Islam was the most stupid of religions. His enemies have claimed that his stance was a result of his feud with his mother Lucie (with whom he has had a strained relationship since his childhood) after she converted to Islam, which incidentally, she never did; she only expressed the desire to be buried in the Algeria of her birth after her death. His defense to the charge of aggravated racism was that he was breaking no law as he had not attacked a racial group, and was just using his right to freedom of speech to say what he thought. He won his case.

    His novel Plateformes is about sex tourism in Thailand, and he has said that he is not averse to availing himself of what’s on offer when he goes there.

    I am reading his Goncourt oeuvre at the moment, and find it exhilarating; he writes with a refreshing but rare lack of pomposity for a French author. He is himself a secondary protagonist of the novel, being commissioned by the main character, an artist, to write the program notes for his coming exhibition, and he paints the Michel Houellebecq of the novel as a neurotic wreck who does not wash and drinks too much.

    He holds many right-wing views which I find repugnant, but in his exchange of letters with Bernard Henri-Levi, someone whose views are closer to mine, published under the title of Ennemis Publics, I could not help admiring the spontaneous quality of his writing (but not necessarily its contents) whilst I found Henri-Levi irritatingly calculating with his recherché agenda.

    His novels are available in English translations.
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