It sounds far-fetched: a Muslim wins the French elections and introduces Sharia law. And French society – that bastion of liberte – submits.
But in Houellebecq’s hands it becomes eerily plausible. He’s being deliberately provocative, of course – that’s Houellebecq’s MO. Still, he writes the politics so believably it makes it easy to suspend disbelief.
The protagonist is Francois, a middle-aged literature professor with little else in his life bar the occasional short-term relationship. He’s listless and adrift, but lacks the motivation to search for meaning.
Outside the Sorbonne the elections are underway. Right-wing firebrand Marine Le Pen is on the march as the traditional major parties succumb to infighting. The only other candidate is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Ben Abbes who, with the help of Socialists and other centrists willing to do anything to keep some power, gets over the line.
As France transforms, you’d expect a man like Francois to be part of the intellectual resistance, to fight for liberal Western values. Instead, he’s seduced – by the promise of Saudi oil riches and a harem of young wives.
This book has been described as anti-Islam, and it is in some ways, but in my view it reserves most of its ire for the West and its ruling-class. Houellebecq believe the West has lost its bearings, its direction, its values; that it has become a moral and intellectual vacuum all too easily filled.
It’s challenging stuff but well worth a go.
Next: a ghost story.