Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles

This is a multi-generational saga set in a society where the institution of the family has broken down.

Janine is the daughter of a Third Republic official. She functions in the book as an anti-matriarch, an archetypal Bad Mother.

Her two sons have different fathers. The boys’ relationship with each other is tenuous and casual; they seem less like brothers than rather abstracted acquaintances. Michel is a scientist, while Bruno dabbles in the humanities — a device permitting Houellebecq economically to condemn the entire range of Western intellectual endeavor.

Neither of the half-brothers proves capable of forming a committed relationship with a woman. We get to know Annabelle well enough to feel that Michel should marry her; we get to know Christiane well enough to feel that Bruno should marry her; but both relationships end miserably… there will be no next generation of this family, who experience a hundred years of something less than solitude – complete social atomization…

Not content with condemning postwar France as a society of technocrats and hedonists, Houllebecq attempts to demonstrate novelistically that the progress of Western individualism has made any kind of social relationship impossible. His suggested solution, a future utopia reliant on cloning, will seem congenial only to followers of the Raëlian cult. What makes for the suspicion Houllebecq is a major French writer is perhaps precisely the ferocity with which he indicts his own society… for accusatory zeal at least, he is a match for Zola or Céline…
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