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Michel Houellebecq's Dirty Words

Words:

Edd Norval
February 8, 2018

Michel Houellebecq was on the cover of Charlie Hebdo at the time of the massacre at their Paris office on January 7 2015. He is standing smoking wearing a wizards hat, the point being he was prophetic. The cover turned out to be eerily true.

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After his third novel, Platform came out in 2001, depicting the life of a disgruntled Parisian who travels to Thailand as a sex tourist and finds love - until that love is killed in an Islamic terrorist attack, similar to the Bali bombing that occurred the following year.


Then came Submission, the book that got him the cover of Charlie Hebdo on their darkest day. The book imagines a future France under Sharia law. Prescient again, on nthe day of the cover their office was shot up with most of their editorial staff killed.


Does the foretelling displayed by these stories make him some kind of prophet? No. What it shows though is a complex understanding of human behaviour. His interpretation of subtleties is reminiscent of Albert Camus' L'Estranger, when you run with these ideas, like any great satirist, they turn into something that is believable, something that might actually happen - an examination of the human condition.

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His knack for nuance is on display again in his latest collection of poems, Unreconciled: Poems 1991 - 2015. The subject matters go from loneliness and alienation to love in the unlikeliest of places, with a dark and cutting cynicism present throughout - it's less of something you read, but an experience to endure.


It's a challenge, but one worth persevering with. His words aren't particularly 'feel good', but his exorcism of hatred and nihilism is complimentary to a world that is overwhelmed by these feelings at the moment. Plus he's a pretty funny guy.

Love, Love
In a porn cinema, wheezing pensioners
Discrete, secrete, excrete.
This is as close to love
As any of us are likely to get.


The poems are personal, often subtle and nearly always hopeless and despairing. He's got it right so many times in the past, and now that he's talking more about getting old and the state of relationships, we are left with two questions: To believe him or not? To laugh or to cry?

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