Monday, January 17

Michel Houellebecq: We read “annihilate”, his new novel

Three years after “Serotonin”, the writer Michel Houellebecq is back with “annihilate” (ed. Flammarion), a work that looks like a political thriller, to be published this Friday, January 7.

Ambitious, realistic, and tender, it depicts the evils of our society and tackles a wide range of subjects, such as computer terrorism, politics, the end of life, faith, or even love. More precisely, his eighth book, printed in 300,000 copies, plunges the reader into 2027, in the middle of the presidential campaign.

a political background

Never named but identifiable, Emmanuel Macron, who had “abandoned the fantasies of start-up nation which had made his first election, but had objectively only led to the production of a few precarious and underpaid jobs”, is about to ‘complete a second five-year term. The left is struggling in the polls, while the new candidate of the National Rally – a young man replacing Marine Le Pen – exceeds 20%.

The latter finds himself neck and neck with the candidate of the presidential majority. The outgoing president not being able to run for a third mandate, it is finally a popular television host, having overshadowed the host Cyril Hanouna, who is embarking on the race. On the personalities side, we also meet Laurent Joffrin, Philippe Lançon, or Michel Drucker.

Even if the Head of State would have preferred that it be his Minister of Economy and Finance, named Bruno Juge, a character inspired by Bruno Le Maire, friend of the author, who occupies the same functions. Thanks to him, “probably the greatest Minister of the Economy since Colbert”, the country has once again become “the fifth world economic power, following Germany for fourth position”, writes Michel Houellebecq, who takes the reader behind the scenes of power and political communication.

A typical hero

If this statesman is a key character in his novel, it is not the main one. Throughout these 736 pages, we mainly follow the trajectory of his advisor, Paul Raison, a disillusioned, lonely, dreamer, son of an official of the DGSI (General Directorate of Internal Security), and typically Houellebecquien hero. It is indeed the fate of this almost fifty-something, who investigates in particular videos relayed by an obscure group, one of which simulates the beheading of Bruno Juge, that the 65-year-old writer is interested.

Paul is married to Prudence, a name chosen by his father in reference to the song “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles, a woman passionate about esotericism and who has gone vegan. Their relationship has been struggling for years. They have separate rooms and have no children because “if Prudence and he had had children, they would not be there, in reality no doubt if, on the contrary, they would have probably already separated, children today are no longer enough to save a couple, rather they contribute to destroying them ”, we can read.

A family affair

While he is in the grip of emotional and sexual misery, Paul, double of the writer, learns that his father was the victim of a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). He stays at his bedside in the hospital, then in the family home of Beaujolais and renews links with the members of his family, giving rise to reflections on the disease, and the death. How can we better understand death and support that of our loved ones? But also on patients forgotten in nursing homes, these “ignoble dying”.

Without saying its name, the Goncourt 2010 for “The map and the territory” pleads once again against euthanasia and denounces the specialized establishments, where people at the end of their life are “parked (…) out of sight. other humans ”. Over the course of the story, illustrated with a few black and white drawings, some of which are by the hand of the novelist, we know her in particular from her sister, Cécile, a fervent Catholic, married to a lawyer who is now unemployed.


A magnificent story of love …

There is also his young brother Aurélien, an artist who shares his life with an unbalanced woman who will choose a tragic fate, or even his father’s second wife, the very caring Madeleine. Familiar, endearing characters, around whom the star of French letters shows the complexity of marital relations, but above all the importance of love, by drawing portraits of women who are both benevolent and admiring.

It is even the first time that Michel Houellebecq has described this feeling with such depth. “You imagined perhaps that your life belongs to you but it is wrong, your life belongs to those you love”, declares in particular Cécile. There are still many ingredients dear to the author, such as the rawness of the sex scenes and his creaky humor. He is once again attacking the ailments, and does not spare journalists either.

… and very documented

Punctuated by short chapters and a fluid, honest, unadorned writing, “annéantir”, a precious book with a hard cover and with a thread and a red bookmark, is a magnificent tale, more peaceful, and very documented, particularly in the medical field. Moreover, at the end of his book, in the acknowledgments, Michel Houellebecq encourages his colleagues to follow his example.

“Basically, French writers should not hesitate to obtain more information; many people love their profession, and are happy to explain it to laymen, ”he wrote. Always with his brilliant sense of the formula and faithful to himself, the visionary writer, who does not evoke the health crisis, grabs us, touches us, and confuses us.

The day will come when we will cease to be, when we will be annihilated, but in the meantime, provided that we can enjoy a life together, alongside a loving and saving being, find refuge with of his family, or reading, and “to perform the essential gestures, those which allow the human species to reproduce, those which also allow, sometimes, to be happy”.

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