Friday, September 22, 2017

France: Submission, by Michel Houellebecq

Since we have an election going on here in New Zealand, this seemed a very appropriate book to read right now. It's set in 2002. The protagonist is a middle-aged lecturer at the Sorbonne, an expert on nineteenth century author J-K Huysmans. (I had never hear of Huysmans, and had to google to check that he is actually a real figure.) Fran├žois is bored and lacks any sense of meaning in life. In the meanwhile, an election is taking place in France. In the first round of voting, Marine Le Pen's far right are ahead in the vote with the new Islamic Brotherhood just edging the socialists out of second place. So for the second round, the socialists throw in their lot with the Islamic party, which sweeps into power and introduces far reaching reforms.

All children are to have the opportunity of an Islamic education. Education is privatised. Henceforth the Islamic schools and universities are by far better funded than the Christian and Jewish institutions, as money pours in from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Francois's university becomes an Islamic one, and he is offered promotion, on condition that he converts to Islam.

The book is described as a satire, but it's not what I have thought of as satire in the past i.e it's not laugh-aloud funny. But it is thought-provoking, especially regarding the essential meaningless of life in modern Europe. Will Fran├žois be happier once he has converted to Islam (and acquired a beautiful young submissive wife, with the promise of more to come?) I strongly suspect not.

submission is translated from the French by Lorin Stein and published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (New York, 2015)

Now, I'm off to return the book to the library - and to vote - although not for an Islamic party (an option which is not on offer, even if I wanted it!)

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