Sunday, March 03, 2013

the map and the territory - Michel Houellebecq

Jed Martin, is an average photographer earning his living from taking the photographs of industrial artifacts, living alone in a Paris sub-urban apartment, bought by his father. The only time he meet his widowed father is for the Christmas eve dinner. His mother is apparently committed suicide when Jed was small, for reasons not known to him, and his businessman father, does not give him any details of the age old story. The father as is the case with the son, lives a solitary life. It is in one of such rendezvous, Jed had his first stroke of intuition. Inspired by the Michelin product, he started taking pictures of the roadmaps. The Michelin executive, and young Olga a Russian working in Paris, had different idea with these. A clever management and the use of the press, she manages to get sufficient attention to his work, making his rich immediately, while helping her own company to increase its sale. As is his wont, the course is changed again, now turning into painting, he did a series of works on a variety of occupation, which includes a meeting between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and his retired father leaving office among others. This series , again with clever marketing help, had tremendous success making him ultra rich instantly. It was for this exhibition, he was introduced to the celebrated writer Michel Houellebecq, for an article to be printed in the catalogue. Apart from the agreed payment, he had offered to to a portrait of the writer, which Houellebecq reluctantly accepted. In the third and final phase of the book Jed Martin, involved in solving the murder mystery of the celebrated writer Michel Houellebecq , who was found brutally murders in his ancestral home in the French province, after returning from Ireland, and living in isolation. This is in short the story, of the latest novel from this writer.

For those familiar with his works, this is another in the same line, the middle aged urban man living a solitary life, occasional encounter with the opposite sex, fairly away from the family and social connections. The usual straight forwards narrative, rather thin. Few provocative social observations or comments. But this time, with no overdose of sex. The novelty factor may be the writer himself being a character in the novel ( not in the usual first person narrative style), and see himself murdered. At many places he reiterates himself as the authour of "atomised" or the author of "platform", trying to get a legitimacy of the fictional character to the real writer. Not sure, if this was called for as any fictional writer would have made a similar impact.

The book had its own controversies, with alleged plagiarism. Apparently, the French original has some adapted parts from the Wikipedia entry. However, in this edition in English, the author acknowledges the support from Wikipedia foundation. Beginning his acknowledgement with a denial as "I don't normally thank anyone, because I gather little information..", he makes amends with the Wiki with a "I also thank Wikipedia) and its contributors whose entries I have occasionally used as a source of inspiration..".

I am not greatly impressed with this book. For that matter, I haven't liked any book other than 'Atomised' ( or Elementary Particles as the version I have is called). While reading this book, I had the strange comparison with Haruki Murakami. May be its their outlook of the society, the style of writing, which is of no real depth and their way of treating sex in their books. A satire on art and literature, trying to play with some self parody , I'm not sure if he pulled it off. To me, it did not.
the map and the territory ( 2010)

Michel Houellebecq ( translated from French by Gavin Bowd 2011)

Vintage Books

291 Pages
NY Books, Guardian, NY Times, Book Slut

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