Friday 24 November 2017

Politics, loneliness, sex: what the French are reading

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

You can sometimes judge the mood of France by what people are reading. Two books have been top of the bestseller lists: Michel Houellebecq's novel, Soumission ('Submission') and Eric Zemmour polemic, Le Suicide Français, ('France's Suicide'). Both express a national sense of disquiet.

Houellebecq's novel is a canny mixture of what-happens-next narrative, hi-falutin' philosophical discourse, and explicit erotic content - there are several sexual passages some might call pornographic, since the narrator, François, is cold and impersonal about his sexual encounters, and sees women as objects. Yet they are so well-written, they rise above mere porn.

The novel's appearance coincided with the terrible events in January when the Charlie Hebdo editorial team were slaughtered, so the political plot was well reported: it's about the rise of an Islamic party in the year 2022. Paradoxically, in a presidential election, the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen (now modelling herself on Angela Merkel), does a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, led by an apparently moderate Muslim leader: centre-left and centre-right parties are squeezed.

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