The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Michel Houellebecq’

Ah, Bless, and Other News

April 30, 2014 | by


Heinrich Zille, Die Witwe, 1929.

  • The winners of this year’s Best Translated Book Awards: in fiction, László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo There Below, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet; in poetry, Elisa Biagini’s The Guest in the Wood, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky.
  • Jenny Diski, bless her, on aging, or something like it: “I must accept that I was old because my hairdresser says, ‘Ah, bless,’ in response to whatever I say in answer to her questions. ‘Are you busy today?’ ‘Just regular working.’ ‘Ah, bless.’ ‘How was the weekend?’ ‘A friend came to stay.’ ‘Ah, bless.’ The other day, when she asked, I said: ‘I’m being interviewed by a journalist from Poland.’ ‘Ah, bless.’ … The ah-bless alters or confirms whatever it’s responding to, and in my mind’s eye (altered and confirmed) I see a small, nondescript old lady going bravely about her business. There are other signs that I am no longer young, but the ah-bless is the most open and public.”
  • In 1968, Charles Simic witnessed a group of disgruntled poets settle things the old-fashioned way—with fisticuffs. “I stood on the porch watching in astonishment with the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra and the French poet Eugène Guillevic. They were delighted by the spectacle and assumed that this is how American poets always settled their literary quarrels; I tried to tell them that this was the first time I had seen anything like that and it scared the hell out of me, but they just laughed.”
  • A series of photos compares public spaces in North and South Korea. (The shot of the Pyongyang Metro is especially poignant.)
  • Guillaume Nicloux discusses his new film, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, starring, yes, Michel Houellebecq: “He is also really annoying to the captors. He is always asking for wine and cigarettes, he asks for another visit from the prostitute, he is really tiresome for them. He gets angry. He begs our sympathy, but at the same time he behaves really badly.”



A Curmudgeonly Pain in the Ass

February 26, 2014 | by

Michel Houellebecq is fifty-eight today.

Photograph by TK.


You’ve said that you are “an old Calvinist pain-in-the-ass.” What do you mean?


I tend to think that good and evil exist and that the quantity in each of us is unchangeable. The moral character of people is set, fixed until death. This resembles the Calvinist notion of predestination, in which people are born saved or damned, without being able to do a thing about it. And I am a curmudgeonly pain in the ass because I refuse to diverge from the scientific method or to believe there is a truth beyond science.

—Michel Houllebecq, the Art of Fiction No. 206


On the Shelf

September 21, 2011 | by

Gustave Flaubert. Photograph by Nadar.

A cultural news roundup.

  • Michel Houellebecq has been found.
  • So has a James M. Cain manuscript.
  • Neil Young is writing an autobiography.
  • So is Jermaine Jackson.
  • So is Julian Assange. But without his consent.
  • “If I say ‘David Bellos has to be one of the smartest people now on the planet,’ what language am I using? English of a kind; but scarcely the Queen’s, which—to judge from her public utterances—retains a careful insularity; mid-Atlantic schtick is not Her Majesty’s bag.”
  • Nor Shakespeare’s.
  • The Sondheim-crossword mother lode.
  • Shakeups at DC Comics ...
  • But peace at the Poetry Society.
  • “The general editorial posture of the magazine leaned away from the conventions of the establishment and toward the eccentricities of bohemians everywhere.”
  • Salman Rushdie joins Twitter.
  • Flaubert once bet some friends that he could make love to a woman, smoke a cigar, and write a letter at the same time. He won, as they looked on in admiration.”
  • These are beautiful, if we do say so ourselves.

    To Marry a Writer; Houellebecq’s Latest

    February 25, 2011 | by

    I’m remarrying at “a certain age.” My mother once said “You’d make some man a lovely wife if you weren’t a writer.” We can chortle at this or, do you think, we can agree that to have a life partner, male or female, hunkering down on a subject, translating perception into the written word, is difficult to live with à la longue? And how can we be authentic but also companionable in an acceptable key? —Jane Merrill

    First of all, felicitations and lots of luck. I think living with somebody, à la longue, is pretty tricky no matter what he or she does for a living. So they tell me. The downside of writers, I gather, is that they spend all day alone (which makes them slightly crazy by supper time), suffer from writer’s block (ditto), and by and large are not much help when it comes to paying the rent. But many of you are such good company! And you ask such good questions! If you discover the golden mean of authenticity and companionability, I hope and trust you will let us know. (Maybe in your next book?)

    Last year, I first read of Houellebecq in The Paris Review, whose Whatever and The Elementary Particles I loved. Currently, I’m enjoying Le Tellier’s Enough About Love. Can you recommend more contemporary French fiction in English translation? Also, is there a time line for an English translation of Houellebecq’s latest? —Peter S., Saint Paul, MN

    I treasure Houellebecq, but I’m having trouble finding a critical opinion, in English or in French, that can really explain and defend the merit of the work. Any suggestions, links? Who are the best French critics nowadays? —Alex

    Peter S., the latest issue of The Review of Contemporary Ficton is devoted to the publisher P.O.L.—source of much that is new and original in French letters today. I think it will interest you. One P.O.L. author, Édouard Levé, appears in our spring issue. (You will recognize him as the real-life source for the character Hugues Léger in Enough About Love.)

    According to Houellebecq’s American publisher, The Map and the Territory is scheduled to appear in spring 2012. And while we’re on the subject: Alex, check out Ben Jeffrey’s essay in The Point and Sam Lipsyte’s in The Believer.

    Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.


    Staff Picks: Mahmoud Darwish, Neutral Milk Hotel

    November 12, 2010 | by

    Photograph by Amarjit Chandan.

    Journal of an Ordinary Grief, by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, is a mixture of memoir, history, dream dialogue, and political polemic. Originally published in Arabic in 1973, it has now been translated for the first time into English by Ibrahim Muhawi (who also translated Darwish’s genre-bending memoir of the Beirut war, Memory for Forgetfulness). Darwish’s prose is a miraculous, quicksilvery substance, slipping from lyricism to analysis to Beckettian humor in the space of a paragraph. His subject is Palestinian life under occupation, and this is one of those rare works able to register the complexities of that experience while also being politically and artistically uncompromising. —Robyn Creswell

    This week I read my favorite essay ever on (what else?) Michel Houellebecq. It’s by Ben Jeffrey, and it can be found in The Point, a Chicago magazine devoted to literary and cultural criticism. I just took out a two-year subscription. —Lorin Stein

    I picked up Montauk, the slim novel by Max Frisch, at the recommendation of a young writer. I’m now obsessed. Frisch’s writing has a way of sticking in my head, and, I’ve discovered, slipping into my dreams. —Thessaly La Force

    Read More »


    Houellebecq Triumphant

    November 9, 2010 | by

    Photograph by Vincent Ferrané. To see more photographs of Houellebecq, click the picture above.

    “I’ve become a cause,” declares Michel Houellebecq when asked how he really feels, a few hours after winning the Prix Goncourt. And it’s true: If he hadn’t won France’s biggest literary prize, it would have been more than a disappointment; it would have been a defeat. (And I don’t even want to think about the bloggers, his fiercest supporters. The bloggers would have exploded.)

    Now it’s midnight: We’re at the Montana drinking vodka with some kind of blue mint thing in it—“we” being a small gang rounded up by Frédéric Beigbeder after dinner. No way is the novelist and former talk-show host (one of our more energetic littérateurs) going to let his friend Michel crawl into bed with his Goncourt. “Between Michel getting the Goncourt and Virginie Despentes winning le Renaudot,” Beigbeder exclaims, “a whole generation—our generation—has finally won!” There's a brief silence, and we must all think the same thing without saying it: If we’ve won and there's nothing to fight for, it’s probably downhill from here.

    Of course, we can always wait for Houellebecq to get the Nobel. “After France, the world!” jokes Beigbeder, and everybody’s quick to raise a glass. A colleague from Les Inrocks joins us and immediately falls into a passionate discussion with Michel. When I ask Sylvain Bourmeau (an editor at France’s most important news site, Mediapart) what’s got them so worked up, he tells me “charcuterie.” And in fact, when we were all crammed into a car on the way to the Montana, Michel held forth with great precision on the subject of his car (sorry, don’t ask me the make); it occurred to me that this is what makes him so deeply charming and also, perhaps, part of what makes him such a powerful novelist: his capacity to be completely present, without any irony, whether the subject is literature, feelings, or cars. Later, a blond angel of Russian origin absconds with him, once he’s already half-asleep. This would be Maria, the young woman who served as a model for the character of Olga in La Carte et le térritoire. “All my characters are here,” Houellebecq joked during the dinner thrown in his honor at La Mediterranée. He then asked them to rise: Beigbeder, Maria, and his editor, Teresa Crimisi, who shares with Houellebecq a very sportsmanlike air of victory—all calm joy, no bragadoccio.

    Read More »