I couldn't read it in the original (I don’t speak French), so that qualifies my impression somewhat, but the English version I read was a poorly-written vehicle for (sophomoric) ideas... a second-rate Kundera with none of Kundera's learning or wit or talent for structural elegance. I cautiously read a second novel of his and then half of a third novel and my opinion of the author was not changed. I have nothing against a dour worldview... anything ranging from Palahniuk to Céline (to whom Houellebecq once bore a passing physical resemblance) to Littel to the gently-black Vonnegut can work... but Houellebecq? Bah. But Houellebecq is all set, obviously, to profit enormously from the Stupidities of this Age. Smart of him surely? Unfortunately he is not that skillful taking the piss out of people and society which is against Muslims and women. A mirror of society, showing them what they do not want to see. And now everyone "hates" the mirror. How silly. And how smart of him.
Bottom-line: Too bad Houellebecq seems to be more concerned about his decrepit cock and women's tits and pussies than everything else (namely good writing). Most people take him seriously, and read him in the first degree. But he is not only twisted, he is also highly perverse. He simply recognises and writes to prejudices that people will not speak out themselves. People who are considered intellectuals are afraid of not liking his work, 'ordinary' people do not buy his books. The novel's conceit is frankly implausible, and the leading character unusually cardboardy, even for Houellebecq. Plus, he seems to have lost his sense of humour. Frankly, I fear he's lost it, and it'd be surprising if he wasn't at his age, considering the amount of fags and booze he's reportedly got through. Houellebecq is beginning to share the fate of his distant cousin, Danny Houellebecq: that of being overrated by French philosophers desperate to revive a once proud intellectual tradition. It reminds me of the adulation accorded Jean Paul Sartre - who evidently lived on amphetamine for over 25 years and also did not feel responsible to anyone but his own "truth" a truth which changed at least 5 times during his career - one wonders why in France an author can get into such a position of intellectual power - what is going on with other people's critical facilities? Maybe because the working class are ruled by the baton, the middle class are ruled by culture, and the ruling class are ruled by the fear of being either of them. I think this is intellectual power as compensation for lack of self-responsibility. This man is a jumble of compulsions clumped together by others as "chic" and "challenging." In a nutshell, I don't know what he's frigging around with, neither here or there. But I guess I don't blame him, he's a bit worried. We are witnessing the death of art. Even the irreverent South Park has been silenced. It doesn't bode well either way. When so much of the arts, indeed so much of public life, is dominated by cowardly mediocrities, all congratulating each other for challenging the injustices and social conventions of the world as it was circa 1950, it is refreshing indeed to have a genuinely nutty writer such as Mr Houellebecq. I just wish Houellebecq would be able to write anything worthwhile! Saying he's got balls is not enough. On the other hand, I believe Houellebecq's true inspiration for this novel (my interpretation) is being overlooked in many reviews: he is staging the nightmare peddled by European far right movements. He does it openly, referencing people like Renaud Camus and Bat Ye'Or. The novel is about their nightmare becoming reality, like the "Turner Diaries" were about the far right US fantasy becoming real - and I think that some reviewers are illustrating that he aimed in the right direction. He does mercilessly attack the French elite, with one glaring exception: Marine Le Pen. He actually even says that she is "beautiful", which is indeed a sign of great admiration, for a man who goes out of his way to say as often as possible, in books and interviews, that any woman beyond the age of 22 is decrepit and sexually repulsive... Wot?