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Whatever (Serpent's Tail Classics) Paperback – June 28, 2011

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Whatever (Serpent's Tail Classics) + The Possibility of an Island (Vintage International) + The Elementary Particles
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Product Details

  • Series: Serpent's Tail Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail; Reprint edition (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846687845
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846687846
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The unnamed narrator of Houellebecq's novel is Marcuse's one-dimensional man. A single, 30-year-old computer engineer in Paris with no sex life, he suffers from a chronic passivity that, in Houellebecq's view, is characteristic of Generation X. He buys, but doesn't take joy in any of the things he possesses. He has acquaintances, but no friends. In his off hours he writes dialogues featuring an assortment of barnyard animals. When his company sends him and a colleague, Bernard, out to Rouen and La Roche-sur-Yon to consult on software, nothing much gets done. In Rouen he suffers from heart problems. Since Bernard visits him in the hospital, a bond develops between them. Bernard, cursed with a repulsive appearance and a horny disposition, makes obnoxious advances to every woman he sees and is predictably rejected. Sexual deprivation is the atmosphere in which these men exist. That both men see women only in terms of their sexual features makes their impotence even more pathetic. After breaking up with his last girlfriend two years ago, the narrator has withdrawn from the romantic arena. And yet he has developed an intricate and mean-spirited, if ill-defined, theory of sexual hierarchy. The loose narrative condenses to an action sequence when the narrator tries to get Bernard to murder a woman with a steak knife, but the incident is gratuitous. In the end, Houellebecq displays none of the novelist's eye for detail and, further, defaults on the development of a vital main character, who might have connected this series of threadbare incidents into an interesting social comment. (Jan.) FYI: A bestseller in France, this novel won the 1995 Prix Flore for best first novel.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Houellebecq's deeply philosophical novel is about an alienated young man searching for happiness in the computer age. Bored with the world and too weary to try to adapt to the foibles of friends and coworkers, he retreats into himself, descending into depression while attempting to analyze the passions of the people around him. Houellebecq uses his nameless narrator as a vehicle for extended exploration into the meanings and manifestations of love and desire in human interactions. Ironically, as the narrator attempts to define love in increasingly abstract terms, he becomes less and less capable of experiencing that which he is so desperate to understand. Intelligent and well written, the short novel is a thought-provoking inspection of a generation's confusion about all things sexual. Houellebecq captures precisely the cynical disillusionment of disaffected youth. Bonnie Johnston --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Finally, a worthy work of fiction.
T. Sterling
When you know all this, and you actually open the book with intention to read it, not spitting on it a priori, you feel disappointed.
Matko Vladanovic
So, maybe I missed something (in my opinion, the language is very important).

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 1999
Format: Paperback
Written in a dry, ascerbic tone, WHATEVER follows one man's downward spiral as he feels increasingly less conected with the world and society that surrounds him. The book deals with many questions regarding modern times, picking up the ball, as it were, where writers like Kafka left off. The paradox presented in this book is that with the increase in speed and circulation of information and communication tools, people seem to be overloaded and more isolated. At times the book meanders and one never gets really close to the other characters but it seems appropriate in a novel about the solipsistic nature of our times. A true pessimist, Michel Houellebecq does not allow his character to surrmount his seperation from other (or as Hawthorn would have said his "black veil"). The novel is well worth reading and I'll be interested to to read other works by Houellebecq.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By S. Maruta on November 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
THe original tittle for this book is 'extension du domaine de la lutte' (extension of the struggle field) and in French it sounds exactly like one of those manifestos 70s terrorists like to publish in between bombings and assassinations. Maybe this is a simple warning from the author: I AM DANGEROUS!
Well Michel Houelebecq doesn't look too dangerous and his ideas are either a posture of pessimistic contempt or the work of a dangerous lunatic, probably both. Still EDDDLL is before all a great novel. If you're into the subversive discourse of the author on the loathsome nature of sexual freedom and the need to overcome it you should read its 2nd novel (and last years'tremendous best seller in France): les particules elementaires.
PS: a film adaptation of EDDDLL has just been releised in France.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By James Liu on March 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
I've read this little novella twice, both in fits of insomnia, while lamenting the loss of my girlfriend. The meaning is very clearly laid out, both by the narration, and by the occasional exposition of the narrator. Houellebecq's major thesis is that in the aftermath of the cold war, and the triumph of capitalism, the same cutthroat comepetition that has left behind so many economically has crept into social life to the extent that some get screwed, and others get screwed. Upon the first reading, the message was clear enough, but on the second reading, there emerges a subtlety to the narration that conveys the message far better than the expository rants that the narrator occasionally goes on.
So much for the book itself. I'm sure it merits a good five stars, but the translation is absolutely abhorent. At first glance, it's just the occasional creeping British argot, but you realize that the sentences are choppy, and that the argot is there just for its own sake. It is translated into nobody's vernacular. Hammond's rendition into a limp British slang is quite comical, especially since Houellebecq has been militating against Americanization (or at least you can feel that undertone) which the translator really undermines.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Olivier Poncelet on August 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Extension du domaine de la lutte", so does the original title, shows an acute vision of life in its everyday details and a taste for cold logics that help Houellebecq explain how his life went THAT bad... (See "The elementary particles" for this parallel between "hard" science and life). His vision might seem absolutely ugly and repulsive at first glance, but since his narration is flawless you just can't refuse it, and -above all- his (cold but terrific) sense of humor makes the book readable... To me it is a "must", even better than the "Particles" (the decade's best-seller in France), which is less vivid and more complex in its structure...
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Flippy on January 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
I rarely read modern literature. In a North American society that feeds off the latest recommendation of the pseudo-literary Queen, Oprah, I tend to avoid recent popular trends in writing. Oprah recommends and the drones run out to read her latest messiah recommendation. I guess it is good for sales. That's what sadly matters in the end, right?

I wonder what Houellebecq would say about Oprah and North American society's reading habits. (It is ironic in many ways to learn that Oprah has inspired many pseudo-memoirs - from 'A Million Little Pieces' to the recent holocaust 'memoir'. Victim of her own fame, I assume.)

'Whatever' begins with a series of short chapters. It is jolting at first, very superficial. The narrator is going to teach civil servants the use of a new computer system. What happens eventually is that he 'befriends' his colleague, a rather unattractive man in his late twenties, still a virgin, hopeless with women.

It took me about fifty pages to finally feel engaged with this novel. Whereas 'Platform' and 'The Elementary Particles' (highly recommended) had me from the first page, 'Whatever' took some time. After page 50, I began to see the emotional and psychological debacle going on in the narrator's life. The tone is set in the earlier stages of the book but the real emotional struggle begins mid-way through. The narrator is an atheist, a struggling individual. His pain is our pain, it's just that maybe we live life with more distractions.

Houellebecq is the most modern and competent literary author of our time.
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