- 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: 5 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 44 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Whatever (Serpent's Tail Classics) Paperback – June 28, 2011
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An Amazon Book with Buzz: "Ghosted"
Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart. Learn more
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Funny, terrifying and nauseating * Independent * The balance between philosophy and narrative detail is perfectly judged; the book slips down easily like a bad oyster. As is the nature of such things, it is grimly comic -- Nicholas Lezard * Guardian * Le grand fromage du jour * The Face * It could well turn out to be a cult here too ... astonishing * Time Out * Snappy, bite-sized, and often very funny. Is it European exhaustion? Is it the soul of man under late capitalism? Millenial gloom? Post-Christian despair? Is it the death of love? Whatever. But Houellebecq describes it perfectly * Literary Review * This boy needs serious therapy. He may be beyond help * Washington Post * The mischief-making enfant terrible of new-wave French fiction * Independent * Houellebecq captures precisely the cynical disillusionment of disaffected youth * Booklist *
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The other reviews describe the plot, such as it is, and there is n need to get into that here. Houellebecq doesn't seem to care about plot, one thing happens after another, it is all remorselessly depressing, and then he seems to throw in some attempted violence near the end, and then one thing happens after another all over again. I think one of the main themes of the novel is the "is this all there is" effect and his answer is, pitilessly, yes, this is all there is and it is pointless to look for any hope. It is this pitiless honesty that makes Houellebecq so absorbing. He puts his Everyman in an Everyman's situation but there is no arc, no redemption, no change. We are all caught up in "the struggle," a social Darwinist approach describing life as a struggle to gain the attention and felicitations--not love, forget love--of sexual objects we desire. It all, sort of, sorts itself out in the end, according to Houellebecq: we get the mates we "deserve" in the sexual econom. But until then it is terrifying because we always want someone more desirable than we are, so why should they want us, and even if they do, they will trade up at the first opportunity. So most of life is taken up with the day to day battles and manipulations to fend off rivals and to find some meaning in a meaningless universe. To find, in his examples, something better than masturbation or visits to prostitutes on the sexual front, and something better than meaningless work on the what-shall-I-do-with-my life front. We will probably not achieve what we'd like but the important thing is to struggle, not to abdicate, to keep looking for love despite the unlikeliness of finding it and despite the general hopelessness of it all.
In the evolutionary jungle of attractiveness, there are winners and losers starting at least by adolescence, the economy of "good looks" generally rules. We will not grow out of adolescent sexual failures but, rather, those failures create wounds that are deep and will get "deeper and deeper." Those wounds will create an atrocious unremitting bitterness that will grip our hearts. There will be no deliverance, no redemption, other than perhaps having struggled. In this sense, he seems a complete Existentialist.
He adds to this an interesting take on the "new" sexual economy, which may not be new at all. The victors, the attractive ones who have lots of sex in adolescence and young adulthood, by their very victory lose a kind of innocence and illusion they could only have if they weren't having sex all the time. As these people age, they necessarily lose their attractiveness. This leads to a festering hatred of youth culture, with all that remains being resentment, disgust, sickness and the anticipation of death. So, the victors aren't really victors. The sexual losers lose and this affects them throughout life. The sexual victors get lots of sex at first, but they lose in the end. There you have it. And who's to say its not so.
What to do when there is no hope? Well at least Houellebecq can write about it in terms that bring it home to us. And we respond to that because it is honest. Don't expect anything more, he tells us.
Unfortunately, Houellebecq's narrative suffers from a lack of focus and an abortive third act. This is a two act novel that has been written in three. Highly recommended, still. I'm sure others have gone on extensively about Houellebecq's discourses on boredom, work, sex, etc. No need for that here
Well, this is the wrong kind of nihilism.
Maybe I read too much of the Stoics recently, but the characters feel like unstable crybabies plagued by boredom and, as the original French name suggests, by the "extension of the domain of the struggle" into sexual sphere, the struggle in which they are losers. They see nothing (nihil?), and they are very unhappy about it. All thru the book. Sometimes they are sad, sometimes they lapse into fight-club-esque behavior, sometimes they are suicidal, but whatever they are, they are not any philosophical or intellectual - the book is all about emotions.
I derived nothing from this book, although it does make for a somewhat entertaining easy reading.
Most recent customer reviews
Whatever is as perfect a summation of this fact as can be imagined.