New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
20 September 2010updated 12 Oct 2023 10:41am

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 Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • 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
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change