Submission is the most French book I've ever read. It's an intellectual examination of political France (and by extension the whole Europe) from the viewpoint of a womanising, wine drinking, misanthropic, misogynistic university professor as it is suddenly, but without resistance, turning Muslim. Bound to generate reactions, the book is tongue-in-cheek offending everything and everybody: political systems and pundits, religions and zealots, apathetic atheists, women, muslims. But it is also examining human failings and demanding a solution that doesn't completely suck. This is the first Michel Houellebecq book I've read. It intrigued me and I may read another soon.
Just a few quotes to wet your appetite:
- the mediocrity of the ‘political offerings’ was almost surprising. A centre-left candidate would be elected, serve either one or two terms, depending how charismatic he was, then for obscure reasons he would fail to complete a third. When people got tired of that candidate, and the centre-left in general, we’d witness the phenomenon of democratic change , and the voters would install a candidate of the centre-right, also for one or two terms, depending on his personal appeal. Western nations took a strange pride in this system, though it amounted to little more than a power-sharing deal between two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on nations that failed to share their enthusiasm.
- As I got older, I also found myself agreeing more with Nietzsche, as is no doubt inevitable once your plumbing starts to fail. And I found myself more interested in Elohim, the sublime organiser of the constellations, than in his insipid offspring. Jesus had loved men too much, that was the problem; to let himself be crucified for their sake showed, at the very least, a lack of taste , as the old faggot would have put it.
- For men, love is nothing more than gratitude for the gift of pleasure, and no one had ever given me more pleasure than Myriam. She could contract her pussy at will (sometimes softly, with a slow, irresistible pressure; sometimes in sharp, rebellious little tugs); when she gave me her little arse, she swivelled it around with infinite grace. As for her blow jobs, I’d never encountered anything like them. She approached each one as if it were her first, and would be her last. Any single one of them would have been enough to justify a man’s existence.
The protagonist is a professor whose only love appears to be Joris-Karl Huysmans, of who he thinks constantly and of who he wrote the dissertation that allowed him his position teaching in the Sorbonne university. As the system in France is turned upside down by a combination of voter apathy and political mathematics, a Muslim party gains majority and, under the skillful leadership of its charismatic leader, it begins to turn France and then the whole Europe into a moderate Muslim empire fueled by petro-dollars.
Of course the premise is ridiculous, after all the book was written before Trump came to power, which seemed equally ridiculous right before it happened. The book compares the submission of women to their men, the only true way of achieving happiness, to submission to a religion, or a political system, or a literary philosophy. It is masturbatory in nature and speaks to one's weakness and decay. It is not an islamophobic book, it's a trollish, nihilistic book, meant to show how reasonable a change like that might seem when supported by politics and media and allowed by lassitude and apathy. Usually books like these end up describing the advent of some Nazi government ruling with violence, fear and ruthlessness. Houellebecq says no: let it be a moderate Muslim party that each divided part of society accepts for different reasons, but accept, submit, they do. The main character ends up considering converting to Islam and living his life married to three wives and teaching in the private Muslim university of Sorbonne.