DEATH OF THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hussey

One of the most important facts about Michel Houellebecq – usually overlooked in favour of his nihilism, alleged racism and other attention-seeking provocations – is that he is a first-rate prose stylist. This is not quite enough, however, to make him a good novelist. Even some of his best novels (Atomised and Platform, for example) have clunky and unconvincing dialogue, and are packed with amateurish plot devices. His last novel, The Possibility of an Island (2005), was quite simply a mess: an artificial and histrionic tale the only redeeming feature of which was a kind of high-pitched sarcasm that quickly began to grate and was certainly never sufficient to sustain a book. The film, directed by Houellebecq himself, was even worse.

Perhaps chastened by the critical ridicule meted out to his recent works, or having simply decided to raise his game, The Map and the Territory finds Houellebecq almost back at his best. 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.

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The Map and the Territory
By Michel Houellebecq
(Translated by Gavin Bowd) (William Heinemann 291pp £17.99)
Houellebecq: ‘a sick old turtle’

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