“The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen

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I have never felt this way with a book as I did with “The Corrections”!

The claustrophobic genre of family saga is my least favourite, when it comes to book preferences. Additionally, all the characters are so fucked up already that I was instantly repelled by the contagious decadence of their personalities. Last but surely not least, the 600+ pages of this Midwestern family neurosis is suffocating.

Despite all the negativities, “The Corrections” is intelligently crafted novel so if it doesn’t depress the hell out of you, you will keep indulging the misery of the Lamberts as to just further fuel the contempt for them.  Weird, isn’t it?

The rotten relationship in the family starts with the marriage of the parents Alfred and Enid. Him – a stubborn, joyless husband and a hard-working man and her – a love deprived wife and domesticated, yet ambitious, mother of three, dreaming for bourgeois lifestyle.  The children – Gary, Chip and Denise, now all grown-ups, have left the unhappy parental cage for careers in New York and Philly but only to sink deeper in their wretched personal lives.

One last Christmas in the Midwest is the event that will precipitate the catharsis in this despicable family crisis. To get to the point though, the reader is kept in suspense only to endure an enormous portion of the distressing occurrences each character has encountered (Alfred’s turd chase hallucination is a challenge to get through).

The dramatic family dysfunction and rebellion against societal norms is not entirely deemed licentious, as it often happens in great literature, one may grow a little sympathy and hope for some of the characters.  A bizarre redemption is served, especially at the very last sentence of  “The Corrections”.

“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.

 

 

“Platform” by Michel Houellebecq

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Reading Houellebecq, one can never be indifferent to his opinion, it`s a bipolar relationship of admiration or condemnation. His point of view is perplexed. To get a clear vision of his philosophy I needed to familiarize myself in deep with his works. The nuances of his novels are strikingly depressive, the characters – introvert loners, whose existence is defined by their sexual necessity. The pages are saturated with scenes of sexual conduction, in which vulgarity is manifested, yet non offensive. Well, at least, I think so.

“Platform” reminds me a lot of “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. The leading characters of both novels share identical social status, with the sole difference that Michel (“Platform”) is more contemporary than Mersault (“The Stranger”), two lonely bureaucrats that met love in the middle of their apathetic existence. Both characters pave similar paths of solitude, hope and decadence.

To end the short parallel between the novels, I would not conceal that the philosophic complexity of “Platform” embedded me with the impression that “The Stranger” was a fairytale.

In “Platform” one sinks. Houellebecq possesses the genius ability to describe quite accurately  the gray shades of modern society. I praise the organic way that he reveals the nature of sex tourism – the hedonistic aspect of it reflecting through the scenes of intimacy. Even after all the lust I did not feel violated. Amongst the lust there is love – tender love, reviving and unconditional.

The driving force of pleasure in the storyline coexists with  ideas of women’s emancipation, economic and political relations in corporate business, the relation between suffering and sexual extravagance and obvious despise of Islam.

Michel Houellebecq carefully sifts out the lumps of modern society through the sieve of his philosophical ideology and is  skillfully unveiling them. His findings highlight the unspoken, yet obvious dark sides of contemporary Western lifestyle. The author has no inhibitions in his outlook on life and I find this to be the reason why his works аrе scandalously frank.

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