The Map and the Territory

Michel Houellebecq, translated from the French by Gavin Bowd. Knopf, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-307-70155-8
In his partly satirical new novel (after The Possibility of an Island), Houellebecq takes on the contemporary art world and the role of the artist. The book follows the sensational career of Jed Martin, an emotionally stunted Parisian art photographer turned painter, as he navigates the slick machinery of the art market and fraught relationships with his workaholic father and a bombshell Russian. Art historians' assessments of Martin's work, dealing with industry and professions, are humorously invoked throughout; his work is characterized as "the product of a cold, detached reflection on the state of the world"—a description that might be applied to Houellebecq's own oeuvre. Indeed, Houellebecq appears as a central character after he is hired to write a catalog essay for Martin's exhibition and the two become unlikely friends. The author's self-parody is deadpan funny, playing on his real literary world persona of a misanthropic recluse. But Houellebecq's presence grows tiresome, and with a surprising (if clumsy) plot twist, the book morphs into a grotesque police procedural. Houellebecq is most satisfying when he shines a hostile light on a late-capitalist Western culture sated by consumerism and shorn of meaning. For this reason, his take on the art world rings true, though the meditations on mortality and death are among the more compelling sections, in particular those dealing with Martin's father. Houellebecq mostly avoids the hedonistic shock that has earned him the enfant terrible reputation parodied herein, and despite the novel's self-conscious plot contrivances, it is a brilliantly astute work of social critique. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/09/2012
Release date: 01/01/2012
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-4464-7332-0
Paperback - 269 pages - 978-0-307-94653-9
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-434-02141-3
Hardcover - 291 pages - 978-0-434-02140-6
Open Ebook - 198 pages - 978-0-307-95745-0
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