Saturday, October 15, 2005

No Comic Relief

The plot of Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility Of An Island (published in the UK on November 1) may well include science-fiction elements and a positive depiction of a sub-Raelian sect, but it remains typically frank and controversial reading, pretentiousness regularly penetrated by pornography and pseudo semi-autobiography intermingling with wider concerns about the human condition in a way that regular readers of the author will know well.

The story concerns Daniel, a fortysomething comedian, bon vivant and self-styled agent provocateur, who is increasingly overcome with a nostalgia for desire as his steadily decreasing physical capabilities exclude him from partaking in the one commodity constantly desirable (sex) in a secular society. After his young girlfriend Esther publicly dumps him at a birthday party that descends into a bacchalanian orgy, he falls in with a sect that tantalisingly offer the prospect of immortality through advanced cloning techniques. Can scientific breakthrough fill the vacuum created by the dissolution of formal religions and provide the promise of an afterlife needed to give Daniel a meaning to his 'senior citizen' existence?

It isn't giving much of the plot away to reveal that this cloning is successful, as Daniel's present-day recollections are interspersed with commentary by three of his cloned descendants, Daniels 23-25 (the biblical resonances are no doubt intentional), 'neo-humans' who live in isolation aside from electronic means, who struggle to come to terms with 21st century concepts such as 'sex' and 'laughter'. This gives Houellebecq the opportunity (as in the best sci-fi) to take current trends, extend them to their logical conclusion and find them wanting. The summary seems to be that a world without pain is a world without gain, freedom from sex, love, war and struggle serving to do nothing more than accelerate our passage into premature old age and obsolescence.

This perhaps isn't the best introduction to the Houellebecq oeuvre ('Platform' would be a more accessible aperitif) but it is arguably his most coherently plotted novel to date, as honest, witty and provocative as it is (at times) infuriatingly self-indulgent; self-pitying and depressing. A flawed book, then, but a more challenging; intellectually rigorous and relevant work than the clinical asceticism of, for example, the last Ian McEwan novel. Younger readers (ie. those under 30) should be cautioned, however, that they may find it hard to fathom the indefatigably entropic worldview depicted therein, while grumpy old men will find themselves empathising all too easily.


Anonymous graybo said...

As an aside, I notice a disturbing trend at PV Towers towards writing entries during hours of daylight. What happened to the small-hour ramblings?

5:04 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Well Mr G, this has happened in particular this past week due to me being off work and therefore a little more freedom in terms of access to the internet during waking hours.

Other than that, old age is catching up on me and even Britain's Ugliest Blogger (TM) is feeling the need for extra hours of beauty sleep...

8:58 PM  

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