I finished Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles earlier this week, but have been mulling it over for a bit. The Expat lent it to me over Winter Break, with the warning that it could be a little depressing.
It was also disturbing.
But the entire book is very well-written, and definitely captivating.
Oddly enough, I found one chapter towards the end, which anecdotes a torture scandal, more gruesomely memorable than the surrounding chapters filled with death, emotional cruelty, meaningless sexual excess, and the absence of love. I had to keep telling myself that, like horror movies, it was all made up.
The story is essentially that of two half-brothers growing up in France post-WW2. The book ushers the reader through their lives growing up in the 60s and 70s, during the sexual revolution and endless drug binges. One brother, Bruno, spends his miserable early life unsuccessfully chasing women; then amid his almost nonstop participation in orgies, finds love. The other brother, Michel, is the opposite: he’s basically asexual, despite having the same childhood sweetheart panting after him for decades. Because Michel is a lab rat and Bruno is supposed to be more inclined towards philosophy, Houellebecq alternates between commentaries on how humans can be reduced to and explained by chemical elements (while they’re living and dead), and commentaries on how humans are either incredible cruel or incredibly kind to each other. All in between the brothers’ messed-up lives, that is.
Because of the prologue, which hinted at some 21st-century enlightenment, I expected the end to offer some new philosophy or worldview. Instead, it presented the future as dominated by human clones, which need neither sex nor love to exist.
For the first half of the book, there were actually sentences that were so drop-dead insightful that I had to stop reading, get up, walk around, and think for a bit; they usually weren’t the entirety of Houellebecq’s existential sidenotes, though, just sentences within them.
And now I need to go in search of happiness and meaning... i.e., Prolific....