This review, in The New Criterion, of Michel Houellebecq’s new book Soumission (Submission) is a provocative introduction to the French author and his work, and also interesting in that it’s a review of a book about a profound topic, and one that Dalrymple often addresses himself:
Houellebecq is a writer with a single underlying theme: the emptiness of human existence in a consumer society devoid of religious belief, political project, or cultural continuity in which, moreover, thanks to material abundance and social security, there is no real struggle for existence that might give meaning to the life of millions…This tone is in a way worse than mere despair, which has at least the merit of strength and of posing a possible solution, namely suicide; the Houellebeckian mood is as chronic illness is to acute, an ache rather than a pain.
The novel itself sounds fascinating, profound and extraordinarily well-timed in its relevance to recent events in France:
The subtlety of Houellebecq’s book consists of demonstrating that the spiritual need of the protagonist can be made to coincide with his material interest. The universities are closed for a time after the accession of [France’s new Muslim president] Ben Abbes to power, but re-open sometime thereafter. Teachers such as the protagonist of Soumission are offered redundancy on full pension, which he at any rate is happy to take. The alternative is continuing in his post, at a salary three times greater than that before, the difference being paid for by subventions from Saudi Arabia and Qatar—subventions which, incidentally, allow the universities of Paris to escape from their dispiriting grunginess under French state finance to some semblance of the grandeur of the medieval Sorbonne. But the quid pro quo for receiving the higher salary and being permitted to teach at the university at all is conversion to Islam.
Note, however, that there is a major spoiler in the review.