“The squaw ran off, returned with two little brats, one on each hip, and rocked them gently. They screamed louder. The squaw’s brace trotted up, his cock dangling in the breeze. He was about 50, a stocky guy with long grey hair and a beard. He took one of the little monkeys in his arms and started to kiss it; it was disgusting. Bruno moved a little way off- that was close. With little monsters like that, he would not get a wink of sleep. She was obviously breastfeeding; nice tits, though.
He walked a couple of metres away from the wigwam, but he did not want to go too far from the panties. They were delicate, lacy and transparent and he could not imagine they belonged to the squaw. He finally found a stop between two Canadian girls and set to work” (Houllebecq, Atomised, p. 116-17).
Fans may claim that M. Houellebecq is actually criticizing Bruno’s worldview, adequately displayed in the couple of paragraphs above; I give him more credit and consider the the writing a tad too heartfelt and genuine, failing to see any authorial disapproval of the blatant racism, sexism, and all-round general disgusting awfulness. Prose which has been hailed as, hmm, just a choose a few: “Sheer brilliance… totally mesmerising, energising, infuriating and moving…” Wrong on all counts, I would say, except the infuriating part- infuriating because why should such yucky claptrap earn these accolades? The whole book is generally about how corrupt and evil society has become, because modernisation, because women are having a lot of sex, but with whom they choose, and privileged, arrogant, unpleasant, selfish, useless men like Bruno are left out.
I am no prude, I delight in the funny, self-aware sex scenes of Philip Roth (who is routinely, and in my opinion, unfairly called a misogynist), who can forget the poor piece of liver upon which the young Portnoy unleashed his adolescent masturbatory fury? Or the sad, desperately poetic and desperately humorous sex in John Updike’s books? or Milan Kundera’s political, strategic sex? or the liberating sex of Marilyn French’s characters? But Atomised simply does not make the bar- and it isn’t even as full of sex as promised- a few scattered cocks and tits, gentle author, do not a sex scene make.
Earlier in the book, Bruno is getting off watching a bunch of young girls showering together in an outdoor shower at a campsite. The sheer coldness he shows towards the objects of his desire is chilling indeed, as is his obsession with the “pussy hair”. Contrast this with a similar scene in Iris Murdoch’s The Philosopher’s Pupil. The same scene- a group of young girls showering by the outdoor baths of Enniston, but with what love and tenderness does the incomparable Iris draw us in! The girls come alive, laughing and chattering, each a beautiful Aphrodite in her own right. There is sexualisation, to be sure, but it is a warm, joyful, glad sexualisation, not beheld in the eye of a swinish brute, but a glorious delight in the female body for it’s own sake.
You can find Atomised, also translated as The Elementary Particle in various “top 100 books to read”, which is a sad state of affairs indeed. Gentle Reader, do not be fooled. Seek out Elizabeth Bowen, Muriel Spark, Iris Murdoch, the goddesses of contemporary British literature, or Joseph Heller, John Updike, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and their ilk to explore the ills of contemporary society in a way which will make you gasp with pleasure and sadness, without making you hate everybody-especially women- especially women who have pussies. Leave this pretentious oafish hateful prick to his own worthless musings.