April 05, 2008

Books: The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq

As a misanthropic, cynical middle-aged man obsessed with sex, free love, loss and death, Daniel1 is a typical Houellebecq main character, and The Possibility of an Island revisits a lot of the same themes as his previous novels, Atomised and Platform. A writer who is as detested by some as he is admired by others, he often poses some big questions in his books, though without necessarily providing satisfactory answers.

Daniel1 is a highly controversial yet successful stand-up comedian who has made a name for himself by using the prejudices of the general public to create themes for his jokes and sketches. He gradually tires of his fame and success and seeks to escape it all, at first by embarking on a highly erotic affair with a young actress and then by becoming involved indirectly in a cult. For a large part it is easy to aspects of Daniel1 as a satirical self-parody and Houellebecq seems to enjoy this and is on top form in these parts of the novel.

The other narrators are Daniel24 and Daniel25, the comedians cloned progeny who are looking back on their originator's life story some thousand or more years into the future. With society and life having evolved, these clones are curious to know about the feelings of love, lust and regret that Daniel1 spends so long agonising over.

For me the futuristic sections don't work quite as well for me as Daniel1's passages, and it feels as though the ideas in these parts didn't come to the author as easily as in the present-day narrative, though that could also be in part down to the translation. As with his previous books, Houellebecq's latest novel gave me plenty of food for thought, while at the same time hoping for something a bit more, and I will certainly be looking forward to his future writings.

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