The Elementary Particles

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9780375407703: The Elementary Particles

"This remarkable best-seller," wrote The Economist, "is France's biggest literary sensation since Françoise Sagan, people are saying, or since Albert Camus even . . . The passing to a new generation of the literary flame--albeit, in this instance, a blowtorch." In a firestorm of controversy, l'affaire Houellebecq has spread throughout Europe and beyond, with translations of the book undertaken in nearly thirty countries around the world.

The central characters, Bruno and Michel, were born to a bohemian mother (but they had different fathers, of course) at the height of the sixties. Following her inevitable divorce, they endured separate childhoods and developed distinct identities. Bruno--a failure to his own family and literary calling--is pursued by sexual obsession and madness. Michel--a wholly asexual molecular biologist--expresses his disgust with society by engineering one that frees mankind at last from its uncontrollable, destructive urges.

An international phenomenon, The Elementary Particles is a furiously important novel.

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Review:

Bruno and Michel are half-brothers, born to a hippie mother who believed in following her bliss. As boys they live in ignorance of each other--at one point attending the same school without knowing of their blood connection. As grown men they're not truly close, but they occasionally phone each other late at night. Bruno's a hopeless sexual obsessive, often drunk or on his way there, and Michel's a molecular biologist, distant and inaccessible.

Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles follows these brothers through the latter half of the 20th century. Bruno and Michel are buffeted by history, vessels of disappointment and desire rocked by the ocean of time. Shuttled away to a boarding school where he's sexually abused by other boys, Bruno grows up full of twisted sexual longings and a contempt for aging women so palpable that at times it's stomach-churning. At a commune in the country, Bruno takes stock:

The women were intolerable at breakfast, but by cocktail hour the mystical tarts were hopelessly vying with younger women once again. Death is the great leveler. On Wednesday afternoon he met Catherine, a fifty-year-old who had been a feminist of the old school. She was tanned, with dark curly hair; she must have been very attractive when she was twenty. Her breasts were still in good shape, he thought when he saw her by the pool, but she had a fat ass.
Michel doesn't hate women; he doesn't even notice them. Instead of leering at bodies by the pool, he stares at particles in microscopes. He wins prizes for his experiments, but never experiences the rush of life. For both men, the damage has been done by history, by mother, before the story begins. What interests Houellebecq are the permutations and recapitulations of damage--the way the particles of the self can never be completely reconstituted. --Emily White

From the Back Cover:

"An original work of art–ironic, intelligent and as airtight and elegant as a geometry proof."
--The New York Times Magazine

"[A] brilliant novel of ideas... [A] riveting novel by a deft, observant writer."
--The Wall Street Journal

"Fearless, vivid and astringently honest...surprisingly funny... [C]an permanently change how we view things that happened in our own lives. Not many novels can do that."
--Los Angeles Times

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