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Submission: A Novel Paperback – October 25, 2016
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"Submission may be the most relevant book of the year." ―Daniel D'Addario, Time
"Houellebecq is considered a great contemporary author, and one cannot be said to be keeping abreast of contemporary literature without reading his work . . . What prevents me from reading Houellebecq and watching von Trier is a kind of envy ― not that I begrudge them success, but by reading the books and watching the films I would be reminded of how excellent a work of art can be, and of how far beneath that level my own work is." ―Karl Ove Knausgaard, The New York Times Book Review
“The political elements of Submission are so comically exaggerated that it's hard to take them very seriously . . . This is the novel's big joke. It's designed to agitate the right by suggesting the right may have a point about the erosion of France's national culture, and to tweak the left by lending ironic credence to the right's fears . . . The only time Houellebecq seems not to be joking is when Francois speaks about literature . . . Whatever it says or doesn't say about Europe and Islam, Submission is a love letter to the novel itself.” ―Christian Lorentzen, New York Magazine
“Houellebecq's recent work―especially The Map and the Territory, one of the finest novels of the 21st century―is elegant, sad, all the more discomfiting in that we never quite know how much subtlety to credit the author with. Houellebecq writes on shifting sands. But I think he might just be permanent.” ―Michael Robbins,The Chicago Tribune
“In Submission, Houellebecq is no less afraid to foment than in previous works, but his audacity serves a purpose that may not be immediately evident. His goal in this quasi-dystopian novel is to cast a light on contemporary French society and the deficiencies he perceives and to suggest that the future he predicts isn't wholly beyond the realm of possibility . . . A challenging satire that, at its best, is subtler than its author's reputation might lead you to expect.” ―Michael Margas, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Houellebec's deadpan comedic edge . . . defies the reader to find the line between parody and philosophy . . . What Houellebecq has done in Submission is hold up a mirror to his readers. The charge is that he inflames animosity by depicting a Muslim-influenced France as something of which Europeans should be frightened. But he puts readers and critics in the position of having to specify what exactly is frightening about this France.” ―S. Mark Heim, The Christian Century
“Michel Houellebecq: butcher. Messy slaughterer of sacred cows. Disembowler of all modes of political correctness, from the myth of the modern male's respect for women to the laughable fiction of the liberal Westerner's respect for non-Western cultures. That's the story, anyway. Like most good stories, it isn't true, for the most part . . . [Submission] is a work of genius, sure―with Houellebecq that goes without saying. But it's not a slaughterhouse. It's a upper-middle-class supermarket, brightly but not harshly lit, stocked with sushi, expensive cheeses, organic vegetables, olive oils, and honeys. It's not food for thought. It's an empty stomach. It's heartbreaking. It's utopia.” ―Micaela Morrissette, Bomb
“The prose, which never fails to be consistent and accessible, continued to impress page after page . . . Perhaps the highest achievement of [Submission] is the way it manages to be a satire with a core of deep humanism running through it.” ―Popmatters
“Extraordinary . . . if there is anyone in literature today, not just in French but worldwide, who is thinking about the sort of enormous shifts we all feel are happening, it’s [Houellebecq].” ―Emmanuel Carrere, Le Monde
“A work of real literary distinction . . . [Houellebecq] has been the novelist who has most fearlessly and presciently tackled the rise of Islamic extremism in recent years . . . He is a writer with a gift for telling the truth, unlike any other in our time – I’ve been consistently saying he is the writer who matters most to me for many years now. I’ve read Submission twice in the last week with ever growing admiration and enjoyment. There’s been no English-language novel this good lately. With Submission Houellebecq has inserted himself right into the centre of the intellectual debate that was already raging in France about Islam and identity politics . . . There is nobody else writing now more worth reading.” ―David Sexton, Evening Standard
“Houellebecq has an unerring, Balzacian flair for detail, and his novels provide an acute, disenchanted anatomy of French middle-class life . . . Houellebecq writes about Islam with curiosity, fascination, even a hint of envy.” ―Adam Shatz, London Review of Books
“[Submission's] moral complexity, concerned above all with how politics shape-or annihilate-personal ethics, is singular and brilliant . . . This novel is not a paranoid political fantasy; it merely contains one. Houellebecq's argument becomes an investigation of the content of ideology, and he has written an indispensable, serious book that returns a long-eroded sense of consequence, immediacy, and force to contemporary literature.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Michel Houellebecq is a French novelist, poet, and literary critic. His novels include the international bestsellerThe Elementary Particles and The Map and the Territory, which won the 2010 Prix Goncourt. He lives in France.
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Top customer reviews
This is the masterful means by which we come to observe several sociological truths. First, nature abhors a vacuum; ergo those who do believe in something will trump the apathetic, the nihilist, and the anomic. Second, the family is a core unit of society; ergo the fraying of ties accompanied by the increased atomization of the individual poses a threat to the societal tapestry that must be addressed. Religions and other ideologies tend to fill the interstices, the cracks that form, rather effectively in a society. The filler in the 2022 France of Submission is a moderate Islam, a religion that already had traction due to Islamic immigration and a high birth rate.
Rest assured that no terrorism is involved; that would be "amateurish" and repugnant. The multiple parties vying for power in France fracture the political system enough to allow the Islamic party to assume power with just 22% of the vote. Those who believe the events described to be totally implausible must not know history. Having lived in places where regime change dramatically transformed societies virtually overnight, I disagree vehemently. As for the criticism that a university would never allow itself to be subsumed into such an ideology, I counter with a decade of teaching experience in the university and another decade as a keen observer. Intellectuals can be co-opted and paid off as easily as other segments of society and are--witness the endowed chairs and the political bent they often have that supports the donors' so neatly. In Submission's Université of Paris, there is abundant money flowing from the Gulf States to fund it all; salaries rise astronomically and those employees who no longer fit are paid sumptuous pensions. Why complain? Now they're free to do their research without the pesky teaching responsibilities. The regime change privileges males: patriarchy is acknowledged as reflective of the order and hierarchy present in nature. Women are relegated to the domestic sphere; polygamy becomes normalized. Again, those privileged by the system are unlikely to complain.
This is a compelling page turner of a novel. It is intelligently written and as a result makes the reader feel smart. It does what great literature should do: it illuminates aspects of the human experience that are both changeless and quite specific to our time. Houellebecq reveals that, despite our disavowals, the undeniable human craving for the meaning and connection that is lacking in their lives can lead them down some rather unexpected paths.
The story follows our university teacher Francois as he goes through his lackluster daily life filled with ennui. His mediocre day-to-day life is unexpectedly interrupted when the volatile election season hits. Though Francois is not interested in politics or politicians, they are certainly interested in him and his country. As rapid changes follow, Francois is left wondering what, if anything, he should do with the remainder of his life.
The narrative is told through vignettes strung together into a provocative whole. Tales of boredom, sex, literature, politics, religion, violence, desperation, and loneliness in modern society come together to bring the main character to his final decision, which seems like a foregone conclusion. It's a short story, which I finished in a little over a day, but it will definitely leave you thinking. I enjoyed reading it immensely and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind controversy or detailed sexual depictions.