Adrian Slatcher writes poetry, fiction and criticism, and lives in Manchester.
Several years ago I was speaking with a journalist friend who told me he’d just interviewed an exciting new French novelist who was little known in Britain. The name must have rung a bell since I picked up his first novel, (“Whatever” in English) when I saw it remaindered on Charing Cross Road. By the time of his second (“Atomised”) and third (“Platform”) novels Houellebecq had done what was unheard of, crossed over into being an English language bestseller. Perhaps its not surprising, after all, the success of counter-cultural enfant terribles like Irvine Welch had clearly not gone unnoticed across the channel. Houellebecq seemed to manage to mix that Anglo-Saxon beat writing with a European sensibility. In those first three novels he creates (or recreates) an archetypal loner, a late 20th century version of Camus’s L’etranger. Houellebecq’s overwhelming thesis, that sex is a capitalist commodity in the contemporary world seemed to resonate with an oversexualised age. Yet his novels are more subtle than that. Houellebecq’s heroes are not the existentialists of old, but with an added American pop culture sensibility. Their unhappiness is similar to John Self’s in Amis’s “Money.” Not afraid to address contemporary taboos, his importance has been restated in 2010 with his latest novel (not yet published in English) winning the Goncourt prize.