Sunday, 13 December 2015
Just finished 'Submission' by Michel Houellebecq. MH is a grumpy, cynical cove, as is his protagonist, Francois. Francois doesn't really get excited about much, other than his inability to have an orgasm, and the work of the work of the fin-de-siecle novelist Huysmans - best known in this country as having been read by Oscar Wilde. On three occasions he wonders whether he ought to simply die (there is an odd echo of Emma Bovary's wish both to die and to live in Paris - Francois is as anti as Emma is utterly romantic). Occasionally the reader wishes he would, but there is a kind of drole charm about the narrator's voice (as in most of MH's writing), with its ability to switch from the metaphysical, say, to the quotidian within a single sentence. Food and weather and sodomy live in the interstices between the novel's set pieces. The last, in particular, is important. Very early on Francois declares himself a misogynist, and the initial submission of his story is the submission of women. This begins with his own predilection for anal sex, and ends with a discussion as to how many wives he will be able to support (three it is thought). Through the magic of Islam Francois shucks off his cynical, near-suicidal self, to look forward to a simpler, easier life. He submits. 'Submission' is a warning. It suggests that far from Islam conquering the world by force of arms, it will do so by stealth, by appeal to 'civilized' values: the family, faith etc... It makes one wish that feminism would cease its silly civil wars and prepare itself for a battle to defend the enlightenment and liberal democracy, and for the rest of us in the meantime to remain slightly less civilized than the French.