Thoughts Whatever by Michel Houellebecq / translated by Paul Hammond, Serpent’s Tail / Profile Books Ltd 2011 (orig 1994), 155 pages
Challenge: 1001+ Books to Read Before You Die
Genre: Contemporary Lit
Type/Source: Tradeback / Library 14-day Loan (oops – I started this on the 15th day… So I will owe a bit in late fees.)
Why I read this now: It called to me when I glanced at the NEW BOOKS shelf at the library. Back in May 2008, I signed up for a challenge to read 1% of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die and I listed this book solely based on the title. It called to me, but I never got to it. So, of course, when I see this at the library while casually glancing at a shelf – I wasn’t even looking for anything specific! – I had to bring it home with me. And it is short. I’m into the shorties lately…
From Tony Litt’s Introduction:
Houellebecq’s first book was on HP Lovecraft.
Houellebecq hates office workers as does ‘the novel’.
The tone of Whatever is ‘beastly tired’.
The original title of Whatever was An Extension of the Domain of the Struggle.
“If you’re in search of page-turning plot-twistiness, fuck off.”
WHAT’s it ABOUT (with spoilers since I doubt anyone I know will ever read this book and/or just might because I spoil the heck out of it): Told in the first person, our protagonist is a computer programmer. Single and lonely. And bitter. He is assigned to train clients on a computer application and has to or gets to travel to other towns in France to do so. A coworker assists in the delivery of the training. He experiences a mild heart attack. He is only 30 years old. He writes animal stories to amuse himself. He tries to convince the coworker to kill a beautiful young lady who turns him down at a club. The coworker ends up dying in a car crash. Our protag has a nervous breakdown and/or is admitted to a mental hospital. He gets released. The end. Not really. Let’s say it ends ambiguously.
WHAT’s GOOD: At times it is actually funny. Bitter insight to the absurdity of corporate work and the people who ‘work in offices’. Other times, the reader winces at the misogyny and violent tendencies.
The theme could be summed up as “Life sucks and then you die.”
FINAL THOUGHTS: I guess I have to laugh and agree with these two review quotes:
From the Independent: “Funny, terrifying and nauseating.”
From the Guardian: “the book slips down easily like a bad oyster.”
RATING: Three slices of pie; I found mention of apple tart.
“His wife absolutely insisted I taste the apple tart her husband didn’t have the strength to swallow. I accepted; it was delicious.”
For something a little lighter maybe, enjoy this French song (and click here for the words in English):
Houellebecq’s most recent novel “is both a devastating satire and a profound meditation on isolation, faith and love. It is a startling new work by one of the most provocative and prescient novelists of today.” So says the goodreads blurb. (Cover links to that site.)
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