cover image Serotonin


Michel Houellebecq, trans. from the French by Shaun Whiteside. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-26102-3

In his latest provocation, Houellebecq (Submission) brilliantly pokes at modern questions of free trade, social decline, and overmedication, while continually undermining the work with puerile sequences that have little to do with the plot. Florent-Claude Labrouste is an aging, chain-smoking Ministry of Agriculture employee based in Paris. After a brief interlude in Spain, he realizes that he despises his live-in girlfriend, Yuzu. Shortly after, he also discovers that she has been in a sequence of gang-bang videos (one involving dogs) and decides to vanish. Labrouste quits his job, takes up residence in a hotel, and starts taking a pill for his depression, one that kills his libido. Suddenly emboldened, he goes back to the Normandy of his youth in search of his lost love, Camille. There, he lives with his old friend Aymeric, a depressed dairy farmer struggling against E.U. quotas. The farmers arm themselves, and a violent denouement looms. Along the way there is a bizarre child pornography sequence that seems to exist mainly to perpetuate Houellebecq’s long-standing enfant terrible reputation. And yet, despite so much that alienates (Labrouste’s causal racist and sexist remarks pepper the book), Houellebecq is a seductive, talented writer, and he remains strangely prophetic about current issues (in this case, protests against free trade). The result is an unexpected page-turner about the dairy trade. (Nov.)