Saturday, January 16, 2021

Michel Houllebecq's "Serotonin": Book Review

I was going to give this a respectable, solid 4 stars, same as I would most of his novels, which I have enjoyed or cringed at ever since "Platform" and "Whatever" in the '90s. But the last few paragraphs sent this meditation-lament about getting middle-aged, losing libido, having nobody younger notice you anymore, and the general state of a deracinated, de-Christianized liberty-for-all France into a different stratosphere than his typical works. His sharp take on what neo-liberal capitalism, laissez-faire morality, relentless competition from homogenized products and global markets have done to the "Western European" mindset and lifestyle--at least among the comfortable upper-middle classes--has grown more pointed over the past couple of decades. While the Islamic dystopia imagined in "Submission" may not come to pass as soon as fictionalized, the atmosphere in which "Serotonin" floats is all around us. 

And, like the late Mark E Smith of The Fall, Michel Houellebecq makes me chuckle a lot. They share that morbid, droll, and often an allusive-elusive sense of dark humor. One of many: when the narrator contemplates getting away for a lonely Christmas, to stave off temptations of doing himself in, he finds the monasteries are all full of retreatants, ironically or intentionally, given the secularized nation he's part of. 

However, his psychiatrist muses, he might go off to Thailand instead, as flights are cheap and seats open over the holidays, to try his luck with a couple of teenaged hookers. The juxtaposition of these options, told by him (in Shaun Whiteside's smooth translation--check out his version of Wu Ling's "Q"), is rendered deftly on the page far better than I could do here. A companion to this might be a similar semi-autobiographical writer, his compatriot Emmanuel Carrere, in such as "The Kingdom," note.

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img border="0" alt="Serotonin: A Novel" src="" /></a><a href="">Serotonin: A Novel</a> by <a href="">Michel Houellebecq</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />