Whatever in Paris

Whatever by Michel Houllebecq is a book I found very unpleasant to read. On occasions like this I find it very frustrating that I don’t have my copy of 1001 Books with me because I’d like to know why they think it’s important. Not that it’s not necessarily – it’s very tight and clever and intellectually accomplished. But I also really didn’t like it and I’d like to compare that feeling with whatever they have to say.

Whatever tells the story of a 30 year old man (I think) who has a well paying job in computer programming but has effectively withdrawn from social interaction. He hasn’t had sex for two years, has no friends, family or loved ones and is going through the motions of a life that he is apparently meant to enjoy. The book is kind of a set of episodes rather than a traditional narrative but the main event centre around his being sent out of Paris to run a training program. This brings him into contact with a collection of people including a his project partner, a 28 year old virgin who is both his antithesis (in his hope for and pursuit of sex and love) and his counterpart (in being generally a failure).

I don’t know what else to say without giving too much away. Oh yeah, he also writes these weird and often creepy philosophical dialogues between animals that I totally didn’t get. Also the book has nothing to say about Paris except a couple of mean comments that didn’t really correspond to my time here. I guess my next blog will have to say more about my travels.

Whatever captures the disconnect of depression and the lazy irony of apathy as the hero bumps around trying to decide if he’s unnaturally unhappy or if everyone else is just wrong about life – and whether anything is worth the bother. I don’t know. It has a detached sense of violence I found vaguely upsetting and definitely unsettling. It was full of quotable little statements and sardonic meditations on the free market approach to life but its complete unpleasantness left me very relieved that it was over and reluctant to think about it any longer than necessary. So that will have to be it for now.


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