Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
20 September 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 4:05am

Michel Houellebecq and the art of fiction

On sex, travel and being a secondary character in his own novel.

By Jonathan Derbyshire

The Paris Review has made its latest “Art of Fiction” interview, with the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, freely available online. As is usually the case with these interviews (which approach the Platonic ideal of the form), the conversation ranges widely – over topics as diverse as marriage (a reaction to living a “largely solitary life”), his first novel, Whatever (“it’s brutal, but it’s good”), sex (“I’m fifty years old and I still haven’t made up my mind whether sex is good or not”), his memories of childhood (“I have vague memories of playgrounds with leaves. I also remember the smell of tear gas, which I liked. I remember little things about the war, like machine-gun fire in the street”) and travel (“I find it an absolute pleasure to read travel guides, especially the Michelin guides, and their description of places I know I’ll probably never visit. I spend a large part of my life reading descriptions of restaurants”).

I blogged last month about Houellebecq’s new novel, La carte et le territoire, in which he himself is portrayed as as an alcoholic and depressive who “stinks a little less than a corpse” and resembles nothing so much as “a sickly old tortoise”. He is asked about that here: “The main character is an artist. Houellebecq remains a secondary character though his appearance does make the structure much more complicated.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Content from our partners
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs
Flooding is a major risk for our homes