Monday, 18 May 2009

Atomised by Michel Houellbecq

I have to start by saying that this is probably one of the oddest and strangest books I have ever read. And that there is no way this can be termed a review, because I don't think I understood it enough to review it! Not a good start really!

Atomised is written in a very detached style, and as the prologue makes clear, written in the future, after the events in the novel have happened. It's very strange to read, and there seems to be no emotional attachment to the characters, perhaps quite fittingly, as they have no emotional attachment to anyone throughout the story.

Essentially, it's the story of two half brothers who grew up in France, but didn't know each other until they met at secondary school. Both brought up by their grandmothers, neither of them knew their mother as she abandoned them fairly early on in their lives. Michel, the older brother, is a scientist, concerned with genetics and molecular biology, an Bruno is a more artsy man who studies Literature at university and goes on to become a a teacher. They are similar in that neither of them are capable of love, although Bruno is obsessed by sex, whereas Michel has no interest whatsoever. Bruno spends his life looking for as many opportunities as possible to have sex, and Michel is studying scientific methods of human reproduction without sex.

This would be as good a time as any to say there was a lot of sex in this story. The novel is narrated from the future, describing the last half of the twentieth century, specifically the advent of sexual freedom and liberation and the way this affects humanity. Janine, the two brothers mother, spends her life in various sexual communes. Both brothers visit one together, although for Michel, this is the last time he considers anything like this. Bruno, on the other hand, spends his life trying to create better sexual experiences, generally unsuccessfully. Neither of them ever find love and this, I think, is the entire point of the novel.

Sexual liberation is not the freedom for humanity it has been purported to be in some circles. In fact it leads to the destruction of humanity. It is in fact Michel who is responsible for the destruction of humanity as we know it, although he is dead by the time this occurs. Destruction is actually not the right word, since it is written as quite a positive event. And it's very Brave New World in style!

I don't think I can say I enjoyed this book. It was interesting, but a lot of it just went over my head. There was never any hope of me being able to understand the science aspects, however fictional they may be, an even the philosophical ideas I didn't really engage with. The story of the brothers themselves made it readable, but not enough to really recommend it!

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