While reading this insightful, disturbing piece about the French election on Sunday, I remembered that I had a copy of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission gathering dust on a shelf.
You’ve heard of Submission—the book and its author were on the cover of Charlie Hebdo the day gunmen entered the office of the magazine and killed eight people.
I find Houellebecq’s work repulsive, full of characters who have no convictions and pornographically-detailed sex scenes. And yet I’ve read Elementary Particles, Platform, The Map and the Territory, and now Submission all the way to the end. Man writes compelling prose, even if it causes queasiness. It’s supposed to be satire; I wish it were funny. In this case I wish it were funny and so far-out it could be dismissed as mere provocation.
Submission is set in Paris in 2022, on the eve of a general election. Its narrator is Francois, a professor at the Sorbonne and an expert on J.K. Huysmans (In Under Three Flags, Benedict Anderson writes that Huysmans’s novel Against Nature was a model for El Filibusterismo). Francois has no reason to live; he doesn’t even feel like sleeping with his students anymore. Then the election is held. The National Front of Marine Le Pen is the frontrunner. The Socialists are impotent.
To prevent the nativists from winning, the Socialists form an alliance with the newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood. A charming moderate Muslim named Ben- Abbes becomes president. France becomes an Islamic country and the French quickly fall in line. The Sorbonne is privatized and flush with petrodollars. Women can no longer teach. Families are given subsidies so women can stay home, raise their children and make more babies. Polygamy is legal. The European Union expands to include Egypt, Lebanon, North Africa. A new Roman Empire is in the works, a re-reconquista.
Francois, who believes in nothing and has nothing to hold on to, is offered a promotion, way more money, academic prestige, and young wives. The submission of the nation mirrors the submission of women.
Read it. I’m going to have a drink or three.