“The Map and Territory” by Michel Houellebecq

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Michel Houellebeqc is the ultimate misanthrope in literature I have known so far, yet his works are so addictive that I realized I placed him amongst my favorite authors. Amidst the gloomy and unavoidable destiny clouding the paths of his characters, I most often find an immaculate innocence deeply rooted in their souls. His latest novel, “The Map and Territory” is enveloped with the raw features of the winter season – dark, cold, cheerless. It is not a surprise that the storyline is mostly narrated in the frigid months of the year, contrasting to this fact, I noticed, that the novel is layered with more satire compared to his other works.

In “The Map and Territory” we meet Jed Martin, simply an artist who, of course, lacks any social skills, yet becomes very successful after an exhibition of his photographs. At the event Jed encounters Olga, a progressive young woman, who is willing to love and care for him. Being a socially autistic, Jed is perplexed how to deal with his feelings for her:

Olga was nice, she was nice and loving, Olga loved him, he repeated to himself with a growing sadness as he also realized that nothing would ever happen between them again; life sometimes offers you a chance, he thought, but when you are too cowardy or too indecisive to seize it life takes the cards away; there is a moment for doing things and entering a possible happiness, and this moment lasts a few days, sometimes a few weeks or even a few months, but it happens once and one time only, and if you want to return to it later it’s quite simply impossible. There’s no more place for enthusiasm, belief, and faith, and there remains just gentle resignation, a sad and reciprocal pity, the useless but correct sensation that something could have happened, that you just simply shaved yourself unworthy of this gift you had been offered.”

Jed is not only puzzled regarding his love for Olga, but also he hardly accepts his friendship with the author Michel Houellebecq who was kindly asked to write a prolog for Jed’s next exhibition. Yes, Michel Houellebecq himself is a main character in the novel.

Again Houellebecq’s criticism with its derisive tone on modern life, manifests through the pages. I was not surprised to encounter the character of another bohemian of contemporary French literature – Frederic Beigbeder, who is also depict in the novel, just as I have always imagined him – cynical, self-centered and armed with the entire French arrogance.

Interweaving real personalities with fiction, cultural upsurge with dreadful crime and, of course, discussions about writers, artists, architects; Michel Houellebecq, once more, offers substantial piece of work which perfectly fits our time.

 

 

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