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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book Review: The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

imageMichel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory is one of those books that makes the mind tingle. The novel’s caustic sense of humour and irony had me eagerly turning the pages and thinking fondly of Ayn Rand.

Like Rand, Houellebecq (pronounced “Wellbeck”) is equally controversial in his own way. His protagonist Jed Martin, an emotionally stunted and highly successful artist, befriends French novelist Michel Houellebecq in his quest to have Houellebecq write the catalogue for his forthcoming exhibition. The novel version of Houellebecq is a satirical fictionalization of the author himself. Houellebecq describes Houellebecq as having a reputation for drunkenness, strong misanthropic tendencies, and a fondness for charcuterie. Surprisingly he is brutally murdered in the third section of the novel.

Let me get to that in a second. In the first two sections of the novel, we experience the artworld through Jed Martin’s eyes. He approaches life with neutrality and often with distain, but it also seems understandable that he, like the reclusive, fictional Houellebecq, wants as little human contact as possible and the space to create his art. The modern art world presented in the novel is one of consumerism and one-up-manship, where Martin’s portrait-style paintings of CEOs and architects fetch millions of dollars and become cause for murder.

Yes, speaking of murder, the third section takes a distinct turn, both in perspective and writing style. Instead of the high-minded, sophisticated writing style of the first two sections, we get detective, genre writing. It’s quite the contrast.

The Map and the Territory isn’t a book for everyone, but I found it masterful. As Jed Martin’s father remarks, “he [Houellebecq] is a good author, it seems to me. He’s pleasant to read, and he has quite an accurate view of society.”

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