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Reviewed by:
  • Lectures croisées de l'œuvre de Michel Houellebecq ed. by d'Antoine Jurga, Sabine van Wesemael
  • Russell Williams
Lectures croisées de l'œuvre de Michel Houellebecq. Sous la direction d'Antoine Jurga et Sabine van Wesemael. (Rencontres, 174; Littérature des XXe et XXIe siècles, 26.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2017. 301 pp.

Since the publication of his novel Soumission on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo massacre (7 January 2015), Michel Houellebecq has come to play an increasingly significant role in the contemporary French socio-political, as well as the cultural, imagination. Indeed, the name 'Houellebecq' has become synonymous with provocatively profound pessimism about the future of multiculturalism in secular France. This collection of essays explores the operation of the Houellebecq signifier both within literature and in media in France and around the world. This volume is of perhaps questionable use to researchers looking to deepen their understanding of the content of Houellebecq's novels, but will be valuable for those interested in the Goncourt-winning author as contemporary phenomenon. As the editors note, this volume 'élargit la considération que l'on peut apporter à l'œuvre de cet écrivain — de plus en plus traduit dans le monde — à travers des regards multiples et [End Page 629] internationaux' (p. 9). The editors' contributions are among the most rewarding here. Antoine Jurga captures the distinct texture of Houellebecq's writing and explores the extent to which he can be understood as belonging to two different literary traditions, speculating 'serait-il un écrivain du XIXe perdu au XXIe siècle?' (p. 15). Sabine van Wesemael presents a rich consideration of 'la lignée houellebecquienne' (p. 32) of contemporary writers who have been directly inspired by the work and persona of Houellebecq himself, focusing in particular on Marc-Édouard Nabe, Philippe Djian, and Pierre Mérot. Ania Wroblewski compares Houellebecq's literary posture with that of another contemporary provocateur, Richard Millet, and examines how the pair articulate confrontational visions of French nationalism in their fiction and essays. Emmanuel Buzay continues the volume's comparative focus, highlighting structural similarities based on computational algorithms in Houellebecq's La Possibilité d'une île (2005) and Aurélien Bellanger's La Théorie de l'information (2012). Samuel Estier provides an interesting contribution to scholarly discussions of Houellebecq's style through a consideration of various writerly attempts to parody and pastiche his prose, and demonstrates how these challenge the notion that the author's work is marked by an 'absence de style' (p. 50). The second half of this volume is given over to mostly informative chapters on the critical reception of Houellebecq's work overseas, notably Canada, Argentina, Spain, Columbia, Mexico, Italy, Russia, Norway, and the USA. This section contains insights into sales, national book markets, local translation politics, and media reviews, but the selection of countries explored seems a little arbitrary. It would, for example, have been most interesting to have given readers an understanding of how Houellebecq, notorious for his anti-Islamic sentiments, is read, reviewed, and received in the Arab world. Nonetheless, a study of the overseas reception of Houellebecq is a useful addition to the body of work around the author, not least since — as Alice Bottarelli here shows with reference to La Possibilité d'une île — the critical discourse that surrounds his work is often folded back into it, forming a vital strand to his fiction.

Russell Williams
American University of Paris


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pp. 629-630
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