Sunday, January 25, 2015

"The Map and the Territory" by Michel Houellebecq

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 20


Here’s my review of The Map and the Territory by contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq.

This author is unabashedly and unashamedly literary and intellectual. Those of us on this side of the pond who fret about novels and commercialism and fads and attention spans and the general lack of receptiveness for ideas can only envy the opportunity to wax philosophical and not only get away with it, but also actually sell books.

This is the story of a fine artist, Jed Martin, and the rationale behind various distinct phases of his work. It is also a police procedural about a ghastly murder. One connection is that the murder was performed in such a way as to create a work of art. This second story has very little to do with the main plot line of Jed's work life. Jed's difficult relationship with his aging master-architect father is a subplot upon which many heady sub-themes are hung, including the history and philosophy of architecture, the relationship between habitation and quality of life, and no less than the fate of civilization.

In perhaps the most stunning stroke of hubris in a work chockfull of it, occurring some way into the narrative so it's a surprise when it comes, Houellebecq makes himself a principal character. By name. The relationship between life and art is open to question - that is, between the physical description of the French novelist, his eccentricities, and his volatile temperament. The Houellebecq in the narrative is not what you'd call a nice person – and certainly not someone you'd probably consider taking on as a friend. The author seems proud he's alienating you, else why talk so unashamedly of his body odor and atrocious manners?

Main character Martin's life is well-to-do Parisian, but mundane. He has an extended affair, off and on, with a Russian media executive named Olga. She is one hot babe, apparently, but even she can't hold his interest. She did abandon him for a time, and perhaps an infantile ego can never forgive the ultimate insult of abandonment.

I'm somewhat mystified. I may reread it someday to study what I missed on first reading, which is probably a lot. I do know that, based on his descriptions of Martin’s paintings, I’d love to see them. I expect they would be photorealistic and iconic – like the old Chinese Communist propaganda posters. One of the delights of the book is imagining what these fictional works would look like.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My recent novel is Mr. Ballpoint, about an outrageous huckster and his mild mannered son, whose marketing of the first ballpoint pen triggered the wacky Pen Wars of 1945. It’s a humorous tale about the joys of entrepreneurship, and the bad guys don’t bite the dirt – they drown in their own red ink. Mr. Ballpoint, capitalism can be fun. Oh, and be sure to catch these podcasts on BoychikLit.com.

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