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The Map and the Territory Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 3, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Houellebecq (The Possibility of an Island, 2006) has been outraging and galvanizing readers with his meticulously composed, cold-souled novels for the last 12 years. In his latest, winner of France’s Prix Goncourt, he addresses the vatic nature of creativity and our ever-expanding definition of art while telling the story of an emotionally shut-down artist, Jed Martin, and a reclusive writer named (what else?) Michel Houellebecq. Jed’s inexplicably powerful photographs of old Michelin maps bring him fame, wealth, and love. Brooding and insular, he next embarks on a series of paintings that pay homage to people and their work as the Industrial Revolution gives way to the digital revolution. Jed tracks down despondent and disheveled Michel to ask him to write catalog copy for an upcoming exhibition, thereby initiating a melancholy bond. Up to this point, Houellebecq’s novel is supremely ensnaring in its acute and arch dissection of human endeavors elevated and crass, the latter including the tyranny of trends and the so-called free market. Suddenly, things take a macabre turn as we’re plunged into an appalling crime scene, which gradually morphs into a disquieting paean to nature’s indomitability. Houellebecq’s bewitching journey on the river of art to the cave of death and decay is a tale of eviscerating insight, caustic humor, troubling beauty, and haunting provocation. --Donna Seaman


“Archly sarcastic, cheerily pedantic, willfully brutal.... But what remained with me of this singular novel is a powerful sense of the Houllebecquian mood, which the critic Paul Berman once characterized as ‘depressive lucidity,’ and which here consists of a heightened awareness of the impoverishment of everyday life and its landscape, along with a dammed-up pool of heartbreak.” —Judith Shulevitz, The New York Times Book Review

"Michel Houellebecq is the most interesting, provocative and important European novelist of my generation. Period. No one else comes close. He has written two or maybe three great books, and his latest, The Map and the Territory, is one of them." –Bret Easton Ellis

“A serious reflection on art, death, and contemporary society, The Map and the Territory is a tour de force….It is part crafty page-turner, part sociological inquiry, part satire, part mystery novel, part artist’s biography.  In its seamless collage of artful pastiche, the novel captures with perfect irony the tone and texture of twenty-first-century discourses, from Wikipedia articles to operating instructions, from tacky pop songs to pompous art reviews in Le Monde. In the process, it offers original insights into the museumification of contemporary France, the eerie coincidence between art and death, an exegesis of socialist writer William Morris, and meditation on art as a practice, a produce, and a business.” – Cecile Alduy, The Los Angeles Review of Books 

“Deeply amusing… A book of supreme importance, this is not to be missed.” —Library Journal

“Deadpan funny... A brilliantly astute work of social critique.” —Publishers Weekly

“A revelation for all who follow the controversial French novelist, whether they love him or loathe him.... Here he achieves a richness and resonance beyond his previous work ... a tender romance, a meditation of the function and value of art and a police procedural.... Very smart, very moving and occasionally very funny.” —Kirkus (starred review)

“A trenchant, sharp-tongued social commentator.... What kept me reading is Houellebecq’a scratchy, uncomfortable mind, his catalogue of hatreds and aversions, and the flurries of inventiveness and invective they inspire.” – Laura Kipnes, Bookforum

Praise from the UK:

“Beautifully, accurately translated.... Accessible and highly enjoyable. If ever there was a novelist for our globally dysfunctional times it’s Michel Houellebecq.... Long cast aside as the bad boy of books, [his] latest novel has seen him brought in from the cold, and embraced by the literary establishment for what he’s always been – not much short of a genius.” —The Mirror (4-star book of the week)

“One of the most important facts about Michel Houellebecq...is that he is a first-rate prose stylist….This novel was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 2010 and now, as it finally arrives in English in a finely nuanced translation by Gavin Bowd, it does not disappoint....Teasing and entertaining.... A page turner.” —Literary Review

“Very likely his best [book] ever, a serious novel about aging and death that also employs its author’s trademark lugubrious wit towards some delicious exercises in satire and self-parody.... A challenging, mature and highly intelligent book.” —The Daily Telegraph

“This is the brilliant and controversial French writer’s most intellectually ambitious book.... Funny, astonishing and authoritative.” —The Guardian

“A dark master of invention.... In a world of copycatting and fakery, Michel Houellebecq is an exceptional writer and a stand-out original.” —Evening Standard

“An astonishing writer.... The Map and the Territory is funny, shocking, brutal and unbearably poignant.... Sublime.” —Scotland on Sunday

“All novelists everywhere have benefited from [Houellebecq’s] audacity. Like Flaubert with Madame Bovary, Lawrence with Lady Chatterley’s Lover or William Burroughs with Naked Lunch, his temerity has recharged the form and reminded people what the novel can do and what latent, incendiary power it has at its disposal.” —The Sunday Times

“A great read.... A wonderfully strange and subversive enterprise.” —The Guardian

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307701557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307701558
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #856,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary Severance VINE VOICE on January 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Michel Houellebecq's fifth novel, translated from the French by Gavin Bowd, is an engrossing book that becomes increasingly integrated and satisfying as the story unfolds. The prologue places the reader in the middle of the artistic life of Jed Martin, a pale, slight, and somewhat bewildered son of a successful Parisian architect. He is similar in his non-assertive personality to Thomas Mann's character, Hans Castorp. Jed is preparing a solo exhibition in the spring of his paintings of people in a wide range of professions that capture the embodiment of the vocations. There is a potential for a top market value for these works of art. He is having difficulty with a painting of two artists whose work has become so popular that they have achieved the ArtPrice ranking of number 1 and 2 of the richest artists in the world.

The novel is divided into three parts, each dealing with the monetary and symbolic value of art. In part one, Jed's artistic development is described as being greatly influenced by his father's focus on straight lines and livable angles in architectural drawings and the beautifully designed photographic equipment of his grandfather. Jed matures from childhood drawings to photographing manufactured objects in relentless realistic detail, gradually eliminating background to focus on close-up shots. From these representations of the perfect blend of monetary value and functionality in an industrial world, Jed becomes interested in the symbols representing real objects in the environment. He photographs road maps of cities and countryside and contrasts them with their associated real world counterparts photographed from the sky. The juxtaposition of map and land, symbols and actuality are stunning in his artwork and gain high market value.
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Format: Kindle Edition
With his earlier novels, Houellebecq built a tragi-comic cult around himself as the "enfant terrible" of deadpan cultural sniping and sloppy French schadenfreude. He stands in the background of his novels - a listless and derisive puppet-master - pulling the strings of his hilarious two-dimensional characters. And then WHAM! -- in this cunning novel he writes a razor sharp parable that stars none other than himself as a central character, and a simulacra of himself as a main character. Capitalist ennui and social entropy change positions from laborious thematic backdrop to front-and-center subject, and all of sudden Houellebecq has himself a 21st century version of Candide.

The M and the T is the story of an artist, Jed Martin, who produces work from a position of great detachment without really relating to or buying into the world he depicts. Like the art-world version of M. Mersault, he rubs up against his cultural milieu but never gets admitted on a human level even after he accrues a mountain of wealth. Two-thirds of the novel is magnificent allegory but (no spoilers) the final third is outstanding dark comedy.

American reviewers will, in so many words, point out that Houellebecq is not a graduate of the Iowa Writing School. In America, fiction writing is supposed to be pruned to perfection and demonstrate a subtle balance of political correctness and Shell Silverstein whimsy that, above all, showcases the writer's ability to craft a commodity for the New York Times book review set. Houellebecq achieves none of this. His plot lurches. He uses dialogue to disgorge philosophical stance. Who cares? He is as consistently allergic to cultural masquerading and social posturing as Zarathustra, and yet, he is sentimental as well. Sentence after sentence in this novel are worth saving as talismans against soullessness, and serious readers will find it worthwhile.
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Format: Hardcover
Houellebecq is possibly my favorite living novelist, but his last two novels were only partially successful. "The Map and the Territory" is a much better work, more aesthetically unified and less forced than "Platform" or "The Possibility of an Island." The quality of the writing is superb throughout; there's hardly a page that doesn't delight in multiple respects. The book is also quite short, at about 260 pages, which makes it easy to read and ensures that it doesn't suffer from overbloat (cf Murakami's fatiguing and overlong IQ84).

The Map has a substantially less vitriolic tone than H's earlier works, and it also lacks their long sociological discussions. This probably explains its broader market appeal and the more consistent critical acclaim it has received. Yet it's still a very strange novel by traditional standards, pervaded by discussions of commercial products (almost theological in their depth, but also comic), and with a rather disjointed organization. I'd rather read Houellebecq's magnificent discussion of the virtues of an Audi sedan than 99% of what passes for 'literature' these days. The man has made modern life the subject of literature, and done so by focusing on what that modern life actually consists of -- not by dull repetition of tired novelistic cliches from the past. He's also a fearless innovator who is willing to take the novel anywhere he finds interesting.

It's hard to know where Houellebecq goes from here, in terms of further novels, if he even keeps writing them at all. I personally suspect he'll take a massive detour, maybe slum it with a crime novel or a space opera sci-fi story. Can't wait.
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