Cultural Capital 11 August 2010 Michel Houellebecq jokes at his own expense The author’s next novel abandons “human despair” for humour. Print HTML The French newspaper Le Parisien has had an early sighting of Michel Houellebecq's new novel (due in the first flush of la rentrée littéraire at the beginning of September), La carte et le territoire ("Map and Territory"). It seems the novel is notable especially for its drastic change of tone -- gone are the nihilism and "human despair" of Whatever and Atomised, and in their place appear humour and "self-derision". Houellebecq (who makes an appearance in the book when he is asked to write an essay for a catalogue that will accompany an exhibition of work by the artist protagonist Jed Martin) doesn't reserve his comic barbs for himself alone: the novelist Frédéric Beigbeder and the minister of culture (and nephew of François) Frédéric Mitterrand, among others, also come in for some rough and, by all accounts, "hilarious" treatment. Though they're not treated as roughly as the author himself, who is portrayed as an alcoholic and depressive who "stinks a little less than a corpse" and resembles nothing so much as "a sickly old tortoise". › Imran Khan on Naomi Campbell, Charles Taylor and the “blood diamonds” Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman. From only £1 per week Subscribe More Related articles How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change Video games will shape how we understand the world What is "narrow banking" - and could it put finance right?