By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
It also makes people nervous. Heavily favored to win this year’s prestigious Prix Goncourt, Plateforme was officially shortlisted for the prize on September 11 just a few hours before the attack (day breaking six hours earlier in Paris), but by October, when the list was shortened even further, his name was no longer to be found. According to an article in Le Monde, it had been taken for granted, post 9/11, that the attack on the World Trade Center had destroyed Houellebecq’s chances of winning the Goncourt, but no one expected to see his name removed from contention altogether. But that is what happened, apparently for political rather than literary reasons.
Houellebecq has more serious problems, however. Pierre Assouline, the editor of Lire, has stated that he believes that Houellebecq has a racist aversion to Arabs (a charge Houellebecq denies), and makes much of the fact that Houellebecq’s mother, a hippie who abandoned him when he was a child, later converted to Islam. More worryingly, French Muslims have announced their intention to take legal action against him under a French law barring the incitement of religious and racial hatred. Leading the charge has been Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Mosque, who recently claimed that no more than 1 percent of Muslims worldwide share Osama bin Laden’s views. (According to the Iranian journalist Amir Taheri, that would still amount to almost 13 million people.) In arguing for prosecution, Boubakeur was reported as saying that Houellebecq’s “racism, his phobia, his obsession, his paranoia” suggested an urgent need for psychiatric care. “We know this style of literature in France, with Albert Camus, or with other alcoholic or non-alcoholic or drugged authors,” he said.
If Houellebecq is successfully prosecuted, he could theoretically face a year in prison. In the unlikely event that this should happen, he may find himself treated — like the people killed in the terrorist attack in his novel — as a somewhat “ambiguous victim” himself.
After receiving death threats from Islamic fundamentalists, Houellebecq is now living in a Parisian safe house with his pet corgi, Clement, and is forbidden to leave France except under armed guard. Score one for the fundamentalists, but score two for the author, who has lost neither his nerve nor his sense of humor. Defying his publisher’s gag order, he recently asked a Scottish journalist whether he had any contacts in the Royal Family, because Clement was beginning to suffer “from very strong sexual desires.” Houellebecq reiterated that he is not a racist, argued for a more “rational organization” of prostitution, and added: “It is not a crime to pass a value judgment on another civilization.”
Plateforme will be published in English in 2002. Vintage will publish the paperback edition ofThe Elementary Particles on November 14.