Sunday, 22 January 2017

Half a red pill: The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq seems like a guy who swallowed only half the red pill; he guts the Left’s hypocrisies, but in the absence of hope he leads readers into corners of despair from which it’s hard to see the point. Which is why I’m ultimately more satisfied reading Vox Day or Chateau Heartiste; they eviscerate the isms but provide a path out of the morass in which Western civilisation now finds itself. That said, I can’t recall thinking very many times after reading 350 pages that I wish there were another 350. Houellebecq might depress his readers, but since he doesn’t give a shit about what they think, he is a rare thing these days; an honest writer. And I’ll take that.

The Possibility of an Island (“There exists in the midst of time/The possibility of an island”) provoked more brilliant thoughts per page than I could be bothered making notes about, but three stayed with me.

The first is that it’s impossible to read Island and not compare it to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Atwood’s shining star is completely understandable in the current age (female, feminist, environmentalist, darling of leftist critics, and so on and on), but the dystopia she conjured up in O&C was what your grandmother would write if she read random and quack futurology online for six weeks. Island makes O&C look childish, although you don’t need to read Houellebecq to come to that conclusion.

Second, although I detest literary awards, Island was clearly one of the best ‘science fiction’ novels of 2005, by any criteria, but was ignored by all the regular sci-fi awards. Of course. Houellebecq would trigger half the staff at Tor (and probably institutionalise the rest), and make recent Hugo winners look like the mid-listers they are.

And third, how any modern ‘cutting edge’ comedian can step out in front of an audience after the publication of this is beyond me. Island is as much about the dead end of contemporary shock comedy as it is about clones, and Houellebecq gets it perfectly right; the logical endpoint for today’s clowns is suicide while gazing at their life through a dark tunnel.

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