France's Houellebecq returns to politics with 8th novel

·2-min read
Top-selling French author Michel Houellebecq

Top-selling French author Michel Houellebecq returns to the subject of politics and power in his highly anticipated eighth novel, which is to appear in French bookshops next week.

The philosophical thriller is set during a fictional presidential election campaign in 2027, with characters who have clear resemblances to current politicians, including President Emmanuel Macron.

Houellebecq, whose darkly ironic work is known for its depressed and often misogynistic male characters, previously wrote about French politics in his 2015 novel "Submission," which imagined the country run by a Muslim president.

Titled "Aneantir" ("Destroy"), the book will be released on January 7 with a large initial print run of 300,000 copies, with translated versions set to appear afterwards.

Although set in the world of Parisian politics, Houellebecq ponders weighty questions such as death, ill health and the meaning of life in a society that lives largely without the spiritual ballast provided by religion.

While he made his name with often nihilistic and sex-obsessed characters in books such as "Atomised" or "Platform," the latest offering from the enfant terrible of French literature contains traces of love and even hope.

"There's no need to celebrate evil to be a good writer," Houellebecq told Le Monde newspaper in an interview that appeared Thursday. "There are very few bad people in 'Destroy' and I'm happy about it."

"The ultimate triumph would be to have no bad people at all," he said.

The comments are likely to spark speculation that the 60-something chain-smoker, who married for the third time in secret in 2018, is mellowing with age.

- Bleak France -

Houellebecq is often outspoken on French politics, and the book will be scrutinised for his views of Macron and others ahead of the presidential election scheduled for April.

Despite the small number of "bad people," the France of 2027 in his novel is predictably bleak, gripped by tensions caused by inequality as well as the slow death of rural communities.

"The gap between the ruling classes and the populace has reached unprecedented levels," the narrator says at one point, according to an advance copy seen by AFP.

Once the darling of France's liberal left, Houellebecq has steadily drifted to the right, flirting with the far right in recent years.

He was accused of being Islamophobic after the publication of "Submission," which led him to go into hiding due to death threats.

When asked by a journalist if he was, he replied: "Probably".

He also praised Donald Trump as a "good president" for his unconventional diplomacy and his hostility to free trade, in an essay for Harper's magazine in 2019.

Pirated copies of the 736-page "Aneantir" in the form of PDF documents began circulating on the internet in December, leading to French publisher Flammarion to launch legal action.

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