- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; New title edition (November 13, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375727019
- ISBN-13: 978-0375727016
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 136 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Elementary Particles Paperback – November 13, 2001
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--The New York Times Magazine
"[A] brilliant novel of ideas... [A] riveting novel by a deft, observant writer."
--The Wall Street Journal
"Fearless, vivid and astringently honest…surprisingly funny... [C]an permanently change how we view things that happened in our own lives. Not many novels can do that."
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From the Inside Flap
An international literary phenomenon, The Elementary Particles is a frighteningly original novel-part Marguerite Duras and part Bret Easton Ellis-that leaps headlong into the malaise of contemporary existence.
Bruno and Michel are half-brothers abandoned by their mother, an unabashed devotee of the drugged-out free-love world of the sixties. Bruno, the older, has become a raucously promiscuous hedonist himself, while Michel is an emotionally dead molecular biologist wholly immersed in the solitude of his work. Each is ultimately offered a final chance at genuine love, and what unfolds is a brilliantly caustic and unpredictable tale.
Translated from the French by Frank Wynne.
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The novel is a story of two half-brothers living in France, sharing a mother but fathered by two very different men. The family history is presented in a somewhat chaotic fashion in the first section of the book, "The Lost Kingdom." The descriptions of the family development of Bruno and Michel are brief and loosely connected leaving the reader unsure of the strength of influence of the blood relatives. The two brothers live separately as children and do not meet until later in the novel. The first section is good because it is difficult to find any sort of systematic influence of social/environmental variables that determine the different adult personalities of Bruno and Michel. Both are phlegmatic, but Bruno is a low-key, extroverted hedonist while Michel is an introverted social isolate.
The Lost Kingdom section sets the stage for the main theme of the novel that begins to be played out in section two, Strange Moments. Largely through conversations the brothers have in brotherly meetings, their past and current lives are chronicled. The illusion of cause and effect in the lives of individuals suggests that we are pre-determined by key events (quanta) in our lives that are elemental and irreversible. We have become "atomised." The extension of this assumption is that if we just think rationally about peak events, we can gain control of and freedom from them. Much of our thinking is `reductionistic' in the guise of insightful rumination: If only this had happened, If only I had done that. The problem the two brothers face is that there are no elementary particles of personal development, of thoughts or behaviors. When Bruno and Michel choose to focus on social variables from their pasts, they perceive patterns that they incorporate into their self-concepts. The consequences are for years, both miss the point of life, that elementary discrete particles of personality are actually inextricable components of social/cultural unfolding `waves.' Key factors are woven into a continuous fabric from birth to death with nothing left out or isolated except in a person's own mind.
In the third part, Emotional Infinity, Bruno, a secondary school teacher, keeps looking for the pleasurable factors that seem to be missing in his life as he obsessively seeks sexual activity and elusive pleasure. Michel, a biophysicist keeps looking for elementary physical particles that determine the ontology of the human being. Working on the implications of the scientific description of the human genome, he finds that even with cloning there is the possibility of mutations at the point of meiosis that are random when human sexuality takes its normal course. His idea is that sexual activity may be separated from human procreation, using a laboratory platform of meiosis that would eliminate the possibility of spontaneous mutation. This would reduce the human genome to set quanta. Sexuality then becomes a non-essential, free-flowing, continuous factor that can be used for part of a person's pleasure, while the manipulation of the human genome on a stable platform in the laboratory can be used for producing people who are free from certain diseases both mental and physical. This will not cause a revolution in human history but rather an evolution over a greatly extended time, as with all paradigm shifts.
"Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" was a phrase coined by social scientist, G. Stanley Hall. The fabric of life of the individual and the species is woven by continuous development in our total environment. The concepts of social isolation, dominant social stages, physical space, and infinitely small atomic and subatomic particles are delusions perpetuated by our desire for scientific answers. All of our subjective and scientific experiences in the world that we are conscious of or observe with instruments involve what Michel sees as an "interweaving" of all things. This is a comforting conclusion of continuity when we think of death as some sort of lonely event or qualitative gate to a better environment.
The Elementary Particles is a lovely novel that is a delusion in and of itself that I choose to perpetuate, as a persistent, continuous, false belief.