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11 August 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 4:05am

Michel Houellebecq jokes at his own expense

The author’s next novel abandons “human despair” for humour.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

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”.

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