Michel Houellebecq “Submission” – book review

I knew Submission is a deeply controversial novel. I roughly heard what the news said about it. It does not endorse my sort of worldview. But I saw it on sale on Kindle… and I thought: „I’m curious”.

I don’t know how to rate this novel either, as it sort of achieves what it set out to achieve?  But that doesn’t mean I find it satisfactory.

The narrator is a 40-sth-year-old literature professor at the Sorbonne. France has been suffering through a period of unrest. The National Front and the Muslim Brotherhood have gangs of young people rioting in the streets. The two parties are tied at the polls and unable to form a government, till the conservative and socialist moderates decide to back the Muslim Brotherhood, led by the apparent moderate Ben Abbas. He soon closes all non-Muslim institutions of higher education and fires all non-believers from their posts. Women are encouraged to leave work. But unemployment plummets and soon the far-right realizes that they actually support the conservative ideas propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

So we have „stealth” conservative Muslims taking over France. But to the narrator, this is merely a background concern, of only limited importance.

He only really cares about his sex-life. And that’s the point. Like Huysmans was converted to Catholicism through his aesthetics, our narrator is converted to Islam through his erotics- and the option of having more than one wife. I think that is very simplistically the thesis of the novel.
The narrator’s theory is that happiness for humans is a form of submission. A wife should submit to her husband, and that should give her happiness.

In the narrator’s world, women seem to be divided into whores and cooks. The whores secretly want to be cooks.

Then there’s liberals and Muslims. They are also diametrically opposed. The liberals secretly want to be Muslims.

There does seem to be a pattern here.

I suppose what Houellebecq wants to write about is the secret self-destructive wish of liberalism- the urge to relinquish one’s freedom to a greater cause. But what he actually writes about is… well, I’m not sure? The death of European civilization? Being a sexist man obsessed with sex? Concerns that liberal Muslims are not „really” liberal? Worries that France, when it is governed by formerly colonized people, will try to reinstitute the old Roman empire? Who knows?

I’m not sure I fit into the cook/whore dichotomy so I feel I can have some pretty serious reservations about this book.  (Btw. Cook/whore? Seriously? The 19th-century version was at least angel/ whore…)

I’m not even going to go into detail about how reductive the portrayal of Islam is… Can we just say that you can be religious and not necessarily be a “stealth” fundamentalist…? Please…?

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