Soumission

Soumission

Dans une France assez proche de la nôtre, un homme s’engage dans la carrière universitaire. Peu motivé par l’enseignement, il s’attend à une vie ennuyeuse mais calme, protégée des grands drames historiques. Cependant les forces en jeu dans le pays ont fissuré le système politique jusqu’à provoquer son effondrement. Cette implosion sans soubresauts, sans vraie révolution, s...

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Title:Soumission
Author:Michel Houellebecq
Rating:
Edition Language:French

Soumission Reviews

  • ♥ Ibrahim ♥

    As a former Muslim, I see that Houellebecq is right on the money. I escaped Egypt my country in search of a land of freedom, and yet here oppression is chasing after me in the West. We love for Europe to be Europe. After all, that is why we left our mother countries in search of a more civilized world where human dignity is respected. By the way, please take a moment to read my story of conversion into Christianity and drop me a line and I will be your friend:

    As a former Muslim, I see that Houellebecq is right on the money. I escaped Egypt my country in search of a land of freedom, and yet here oppression is chasing after me in the West. We love for Europe to be Europe. After all, that is why we left our mother countries in search of a more civilized world where human dignity is respected. By the way, please take a moment to read my story of conversion into Christianity and drop me a line and I will be your friend:

  • RK-ïsme

    Wow. Great satire ... of French ... of European ... of Western values ... or lack thereof. So well done that the irony often slips by unnoticed. Who the hell are we?

    Soumission

    So what do you call a novel about Muslims taking over control of France? A novel of generally cynical politics? A novel where women appear mostly in sexually explicit scenes and have little to say except in defining themselves in relation to men (some exceptions)? A novel where 15 year old girls become acceptable as second

    Wow. Great satire ... of French ... of European ... of Western values ... or lack thereof. So well done that the irony often slips by unnoticed. Who the hell are we?

    Soumission

    So what do you call a novel about Muslims taking over control of France? A novel of generally cynical politics? A novel where women appear mostly in sexually explicit scenes and have little to say except in defining themselves in relation to men (some exceptions)? A novel where 15 year old girls become acceptable as second (or third) child wives? A novel in which the much touted French intellectual, defender of superior French culture appears to be willing to sell out in favour of the above? In this case, it is called “Soumission” – In the Islamic religion one submits to Allah. In Soumission, one submits to what one believes is necessary for a happy life – perhaps the same thing, but most likely cynical to a point. In any event, the Christian belief in Christ, belief in European values are found wanting, no longer relevant. So submission it is.

    -

    GR readers seem to be greatly divided on this novel. Not only are there sharp divisions on ratings, but even those who agree on ratings often seem to have read different books.

    Who should read this: Those who have a strong sense of irony, a willingness to be uncomfortable with themselves and a well-developed understanding of satire, for this is satire at its best, subtle but in your face at the same time. A certain knowledge of French culture and current French politics would also help but can be quickly acquired as needed on line. The English translation is scheduled to be out in October, 2015.

    -

    Michel Houellebecq has written a book about a disaffected, lonely, somewhat cynical French university professor at Sorbonne III, François. François has, many years back, written his doctoral thesis on the writings and life of Joris-Karl Huysmans, a fact that is important to the novel. Alcohol seems to play an exaggerated role in his life. The reader is subjected to his innermost thoughts on his life, his work, French politics and his sexual activities, both alone and with others. The story unfolds in the first person as the world evolves before Francois eyes.

    -

    So, it’s 2022 and France and the world have continued to unfold on the current track. Nothing much has changed as France enters its scheduled elections. And the Earth moves … and nothing happens. The gist of the story, which you can read in detail elsewhere (preferably in the book), is that France inadvertently elects a Muslim led government. (Plausible under Houellebecq’s view of his compatriots.) The newly elected Muslim Brotherhood party, in coalition with the Socialists, moves slowly and intelligently under Prime Minister Mohammed Ben Abbes, a likeable and competent man, to transform France, Europe and the entire Mediterranean region into a moderate Islamic culture. He is somewhat of a Constantine transforming Rome.

    -

    This change leaves François at somewhat of a loss – in particular, he has lost his teaching position, non-Muslims are not allowed to teach in publicly funded institutions, and he has lost his young Jewish girlfriend, who has moved with her family to Israel and “met someone else.” He wanders in this new culture, at a loss – but he was somewhat at a loss before the changes. Houellebecq makes it clear throughout the book that French, European culture is already bankrupt. Can we see the Muslim takeover as a new opportunity for a better future? I do not believe that Houellebecq wants to say that. Nor is he in disdain of the Muslim takeover. His disdain is for his fellow French citizens who have lost all values.

    -

    All is not lost for François however. The new administration comes calling. They need him. They need an expert in Huysmans on the faculty. Indeed, the new administration wants to support traditional French culture for all of its respectability. They have no intention of interfering with the tradition of La Belle France. It is François who hesitates. First, in trying to situate himself in the new France, he has gone searching for his old passion, Huysmans. He has tried to follow Huysmans into the world he withdrew into a hundred years earlier when he too found himself adrift in a changing France … and quickly flees back to France, questioning Huysmans commitment and sure of his own ability to suffer Christian commitment. He needs stimulation, not adulation. Mostly, he needs to satisfy his own sexual obsessions, normal male sexual obsessions. He has returned to Paris to try to fulfill his needs and to basically give up when the offer comes to return to the Sorbonne.

    -

    But as with all good deals, there is a condition. Of course François must become a Muslim and he cannot imagine doing so. His recent experience with his Christian beliefs has left him drained of the possibility of believing in any religion. And this is where Houellebecq is at his best. He introduces us to Robert Rediger, a man recently promoted to be in charge of the Sorbonne but moving quickly up the ladder into the leadership of the new Muslim government. He is charming, intelligent, extremely well read and Muslim. He converted to Islam as a young man and comes across as sincere. At the same time, Rediger is enjoying all of the benefits of his situation – a grand old mansion, an overflowing library, the best of wines and a new 15 year old wife to supplement his first, middle-aged, wife who quietly moves around in the background serving his every need.

    -

    Rediger explains his own conversion many years before, feeling unsatisfied with the values of the world in which he lived (Belgium). « Cette Europe qui était le sommet de la civilisation de la monde s ‘est bel et bien suicidée, en l’espace de quelques décennies ». European culture was collapsing and his favourite bar in Brussels in the Hotel Metropole, noted for its Art Nouveau style was closing. In contrast, he saw Islam as providing stability of tradition, unchanging in its values in its submission to Allah. As the Metropole closed, he became a Muslim, a sincere Muslim. He tells his story to François and then sets out to lay out why Islam has become the core of his life: the concept of submission – of woman to man (as in the novel “The Story of O”). François has been given a lot to think about. Rediger has also given him a small book he has written on Islam – it has sold millions. He reads the book and on their next encounter poses some questions.

    -

    Questions on bigamy. His main concern, as a professor, is that he does not consider himself to be a dominant male. Rediger clarifies that, no, university professors are by nature dominant males. But then there is the real problem of … how does a man chose the right woman? Here too Islam has developed the perfect solution: les marieuses – women whose role it is to approach young women’s families on behalf of men. Simply put, the process of finding a spouse, or spouses, is without stress. Islam has taken care of that. Worry-free courting.

    -

    Houellebecq has been accused of being anti-Islamic, but I think not. Yes it is Islam that takes over France, but it is not portrayed as evil or oppressive. It simply is. Definitely, Houellebecq portrays it as something much more benign than the Christian takeover of the Roman empire some 1 600 years ago. Pagans would have gladly suffered such a fate as French citizens face here – losing your job with a full pension?

    -

    No, not the Muslims, nor women are Houellebecq’s target. It is his fellow French intellectual, the complacent unthinking, European who has abandoned all semblance of cultural tradition; who cannot relate to his/her own roots; who cannot form real human relationships that he attacks. Islam isn’t a bad thing. It is portrayed as being a more energetic, more committed other which replaces the sloth of Europe. A satirical warning that if values matter, the need to be upheld. If not, then accept what comes.

    -

    One thing should be noted by those of us in the Americas. We a barely thought of here. I would guess that Houellebecq considers that we already have nothing to lose. We are already, long have been, little more than barbarians. This is a novel about values and I suspect Houellebecq is in complete distain of what we have and have never had. His concern is for what France has lost and continues to lose.

  • Manny

    - Good evening, M. Houellebecq.

    -

    , M. Heinlein.

    , please, tell me your vision of the future.

    - Sure. So Western civilization, it's already--

    - --in a process of, ah,

    ?

    - You got it, buddy. As my old friend Cyril Kornbluth used to say, they breed faster than we do.

    - Muslims, monsieur?

    - People with low IQs. Same difference.

    -

    , my novel is respectful towards the Muslim wor

    - Good evening, M. Houellebecq.

    -

    , M. Heinlein.

    , please, tell me your vision of the future.

    - Sure. So Western civilization, it's already--

    - --in a process of, ah,

    ?

    - You got it, buddy. As my old friend Cyril Kornbluth used to say, they breed faster than we do.

    - Muslims, monsieur?

    - People with low IQs. Same difference.

    -

    , my novel is respectful towards the Muslim world.

    - But you do say they breed faster than us?

    - I do--

    - You ain't foolin' anyone, Michel. I rest my case.

    - We must, ah, agree to disagree.

    There will be increasing relaxation of the

    . Women will comport themselves like prostitutes, openly flaunting their faces, their legs, their breasts-

    - I think it's important to describe this process explicitly.

    -

    The reader must be shown how these

    behave.

    - At length.

    - This time, I see we agree, M. Heinlein! And then, there will be violence.

    - Limited nuclear war.

    - Disruption of the

    .

    - Details, details, Michel. We can sort that out later. But the important thing is, the West is finished.

    -

    - They will take over. It's inevitable.

    -

    - But there will be a few strong, survivor types. Rugged, well-prepared libertarians.

    -

    , professors of nineteenth century literature.

    - They will still be there. They will take younger women.

    -

    - Their daughters-in-law.

    - Again, M. Heinlein,

    We agree that there is only one thing to do?

    - Only one thing, Michel.

    - Convert to Islam.

    - Start a bridge club.

    - What?

    - What?

  • İntellecta

    In the book “Submission” Houellebecq describes in a calm, almost casual style, the fictional stories of a Paris university professor of literature, who describes his everyday life and thereby taps the social upheaval, after a Muslim party has won the elections. Houellebecq tells about social developments in France, how it leads to the election success of the Muslim party and what the consequences are. The whole book is written in excellent language with a lot of bad irony and subtle humor. For t

    In the book “Submission” Houellebecq describes in a calm, almost casual style, the fictional stories of a Paris university professor of literature, who describes his everyday life and thereby taps the social upheaval, after a Muslim party has won the elections. Houellebecq tells about social developments in France, how it leads to the election success of the Muslim party and what the consequences are. The whole book is written in excellent language with a lot of bad irony and subtle humor. For this literature the reader has to have some advanced geographical, cultural and literary knowledge of France to understand all his allusions. The novel is not suitable to seduce the reader for a few contemplative hours from the everyday life, because he literally hits the reality in the readers mind. Moreover you learn a lot about Joris-Karl Huysmans and about French literature, and generally about topics of the French intellectuals. He calls for reflection and involvement, in society, religion and politics and to become aware of the meaning of human existence. It is brilliant and humorous written and therefore it is absolutely recommended.

  • Paul Martin

    This seems to be the kind of book that divides critics into the two equally useless camps:

    1)

    2)

    My view is that it's neither.

    All Houllebecq is saying is that a completely secular society is like a vacuum. Given the opportunity, it will let itself be filled. If you don't want to risk it being filled with something you don't like, then you shouldn't have emptied it complete

    This seems to be the kind of book that divides critics into the two equally useless camps:

    1)

    2)

    My view is that it's neither.

    All Houllebecq is saying is that a completely secular society is like a vacuum. Given the opportunity, it will let itself be filled. If you don't want to risk it being filled with something you don't like, then you shouldn't have emptied it completely in the first place.

    With this in mind, Houellebecq goes on to show how the polarization in French politics could pave the way for a Muslim party to get into power, and what it could mean for the French population.

    Returning to the question in the title - would that be a bad thing? Well, it turns out, not necessarily. From a perspective of power, comfort and freedom, at least not for

    half the population. Or at least the heterosexual and educated part of it.

    I don't see this novel as an attack on Islam. I am no expert on religion, but most of what he says about it seems to be accurate. If anything, he is merely pointing out that Islam as a religion is much more capable of social change due to it's hereditary element and ability to bind large amounts of people to it's cause - whether it's for "good" or "bad". The sense of cultural loss and inability to feel any sort of connection to your own roots which dominates the French secular society in

    (and perhaps also real life) appears as a no less bleak situation than what Islam offers, namely a life with meaning and a clear direction. The downside?

    Just some minor details concerning women's rights

    Houellebecq is criticizing everyone and no one, really. He isn't pointing fingers of laying blame. He is merely pointing out that a secular society is fragile, very fragile, and that it to a certain extent has to be combined with a set of cultural values if it is to remain in place. Otherwise, it will slowly erode under the pressure of other ways of life, which in this case just happens to be Islam. For better or worse? Better for some and worse for others, like every other society in the history of mankind. Houellebecq doesn't presume to have the answer - he is simply saying that it will be different, and that it might very well happen.

  • Jibran

    It seems as though Houellebecq wrote the novel to stir up not debate but controversy. I'm afraid to say that charging a small segment of French population with so much power and influence is way too out of proportion. French Muslims have no power (as a bloc), have no media representation (they own nothing), have no think tanks or lobbies to influence decision-making in France or elsewhere in Europe.

    Sure, they are the largest religious minority, but the numbers are small in the total population.

    It seems as though Houellebecq wrote the novel to stir up not debate but controversy. I'm afraid to say that charging a small segment of French population with so much power and influence is way too out of proportion. French Muslims have no power (as a bloc), have no media representation (they own nothing), have no think tanks or lobbies to influence decision-making in France or elsewhere in Europe.

    Sure, they are the largest religious minority, but the numbers are small in the total population. The total percentage has not crossed into double digits anywhere in Europe, though if you were to listen to the right wing media, you'd probably think that about 30% to 40% of French, British, German, Dutch, Austrian etc populations now consist of Muslims and, lo and behold, it will hardly be another decade before the dark forces of the Crescent become a majority and, theoretically, come to power.

    This whole debate, this loud and endless lament, says more about the state of Western society than it addresses problems among minority faith communities or immigration. Can the West hold on to its post-WWII romance of liberalism / equality / secularism / multiculturalism? (LESM) This is the question Houellebecq is attempting to answer but he's chosen to unload the failures of Europe (in this case France) on the shoulders of a powerless community whose most effective means of showing power is to blow up buildings or truck down people walking down the street, leaving the rest of their people to give out embarrassed defenses.

    Just imagine the despair.

    Global Jihadist violence and recent high profile incidents of terrorism in Europe are causing palpitations that an extremist takeover, somehow or the other, is imminent. But no, what's happening in Iraq and Syria (in part the responsibility of the same Western regimes who make the most noise about Islamist terrorism) is not going to happen in France or anywhere in the West. So please sleep well. As for Houellebecq, a democratic coming to power of conservative Muslims who then go on to turn France into a theo-democracy is not only far-fetched but simply ludicrous.

    So is this satire? A literary experiment to see what sort of France would there be if a conservative Muslim party came to power and changed the rules? If so, I'm not very amused. To think-up a scenario where a small minority of European Muslims would come into power through the backdoor and force everyone - the liberals, the atheists, the

    - into "submission" is as questionable as, say, a writer engaging in a fantasy of the Jewish conspiracy to take over the entire world.

    October '16

  • Michael Finocchiaro

    I have never been a big Houellebecq fan finding his obsession with his own intellect and genitalia annoying, so when a friend assured me that this book, Submission from 2015, was his masterpiece and was not just a paen to his intellect, I gave it a shot. Well, aside from the novel premise of an islamic conversion of France in the 2017 election and a few comical observations here and there, the book is still primarily about his own intellect and his genitalia. I was bored from about page 5 and th

    I have never been a big Houellebecq fan finding his obsession with his own intellect and genitalia annoying, so when a friend assured me that this book, Submission from 2015, was his masterpiece and was not just a paen to his intellect, I gave it a shot. Well, aside from the novel premise of an islamic conversion of France in the 2017 election and a few comical observations here and there, the book is still primarily about his own intellect and his genitalia. I was bored from about page 5 and that

    never really left me up to the end. Yes, there are some interesting observations and he does know an awful lot about Huysmans, but his characters are flat and two-dimensional, his female characters are either ugly (read unfuckable) or sexy (and it follows fondly fucked by the protagonist) or inaccessible (because they belong to another more powerful male). Despite the novelty of the central theme of Islam vs modernity, Houellebecq's own view of women is utilitarian and reductive.

    In sum, my low opinion of Houellebecq remains low and I will be far less inclined to give him another shot to change that opinion in the future.

  • Hadrian

    This is a case of a novel of ideas with the best (or worst) possible timing. The very day it was published in French was the day of the Charlie Hebdo shootings; a few short weeks after the English translation came out, Paris was attacked again.

    Our protagonist, whose name I've already forgotten, is a professor of 19th century literature and an gormless slob who eats microwave food and hires prostitutes to lick his balls. He, like many Houellebecq protagonists, moves through life with a depressed

    This is a case of a novel of ideas with the best (or worst) possible timing. The very day it was published in French was the day of the Charlie Hebdo shootings; a few short weeks after the English translation came out, Paris was attacked again.

    Our protagonist, whose name I've already forgotten, is a professor of 19th century literature and an gormless slob who eats microwave food and hires prostitutes to lick his balls. He, like many Houellebecq protagonists, moves through life with a depressed indifference. That is, until the 2022 elections and the fictitious Muslim Brotherhood Party edges out the

    .

    He is the 'main character', but his life is shaped by Muhammad Ben Abbes, who is the Nietzschean 'Übermensch' to our protagonists' 'Last Man'. He is charismatic, sharply intelligent, and the sort of man who makes other men surrender to him willingly. In this curious way, he is the strong leadership which the far right craves, with the exception that he leads a Muslim revitalization of Europe instead of a Christian one. Unemployment and crime plummet, political squabbles perish, Europe rises to challenge and equal the United States, and the nation is a unified, organic whole. With the exception of the new underclass, women. But our protagonist doesn't really care about them.

    Houellebecq's dystopia is apparently not the one where the fictitious Muslim Brotherhood takes over; it's the one with an anemic market liberalism which makes any takeover possible, or preferable. You

    get the sense that Houellebecq would approve of any new regime (even if you consider the Margaret Atwood-esque fate of all the women). His deep pessimism parallels his professional subject, Huysmans - a move from decadent overindulgence to the comfort of belief. Whether that belief is sincerely held is another matter.

    Houllebecq's study does not cover sharia law or fundamentalism or any of the caricatures of Muslims which haunt the media or political debate. It is a study of

    with a new regime. This is the sort of person who would willingly abandon their old France, leaving behind 'nothing to mourn' for the prospect of material gain. This is apparently the sort of person who would favor any extremism, any man who would covet arranged marriages and obedient slave-wives because any social movement for women is threatening. They are not so poor that they'd be on the edge of survival, but just well off enough to have time to be frustrated and miserable.

    An interesting idea, but I wonder if people will discuss it for all the wrong reasons.

  • Fionnuala

    I set out to read this book expecting to be provoked because in my experience Houellebecq is always hell-bent on provoking somebody, and very often that 'somebody' is of the opposite sex. I wasn’t disappointed this time; his narrator managed to provoke me right at the beginning, and regularly from then on, so I decided that the only way to review this book was with a full set of teeth on show!

    But relax, my teeth are not ‘bared’, just revealed in a wide smile because the only way to take the twe

    I set out to read this book expecting to be provoked because in my experience Houellebecq is always hell-bent on provoking somebody, and very often that 'somebody' is of the opposite sex. I wasn’t disappointed this time; his narrator managed to provoke me right at the beginning, and regularly from then on, so I decided that the only way to review this book was with a full set of teeth on show!

    But relax, my teeth are not ‘bared’, just revealed in a wide smile because the only way to take the twenty-first century part of this book is with a giant dose of humour. And there are some deliberately funny lines (at least I hoped they were deliberate). In fact, I enjoyed the book much more than I thought I would and it also lead me to read a book by a nineteenth century author, J-K Huysmans, a book I’ve owned for a while but hadn’t yet got around to reading. I actually paused the Houellebecq book half-way through in order to read

    from beginning to end, and I began to better appreciate the parallels between the protagonists' lives and experiences, although it isn’t at all essential for readers to read the Huysmans book since Houellebecq threads plenty of material about Huysmans' life and times into his twenty-first century story. To a certain extent, I felt Houelllebecq's narrator's engagement with Huysmans and other writers of the late-nineteenth century might have suited me better in a book with less of a political theme but I can see why he combined the Huysmans part with his contemporary tale as there are some apt comparisons between the two. In any case, taking a break from the modern-day story to visit the nineteenth century suited me very well and I was grateful to Houellebecq for the nudge to finally open

    (edit: according to the notes at the back of

    in which Huysmans speaks of a character called Jean Folantin from one of his earlier books,

    , I see that Folantin, more than the protagonist in

    , is the character who more closely resembles Houellebecq's narrator. They are both slightly hypochondriac single men, despondent at work, obliged to eat poor food alone, and who decide eventually to 'go with the flow' (à vau-l'eau) when a new way of life presents itself).

    When his narrator is not contemplating the nineteenth century, Houellebecq allows him to zone in on various aspects of modern French life: the political system, the university system, and especially the politics within the university system. I enjoyed all that satire very much. However, I generally prefer satire to be delivered with a little more nuance than I found here. Houellebecq dropped so many over-obvious hints about the eventual outcome of his 2022 scenario that even though he held off from describing that outcome until the very last pages (underlining the huge importance he gave to the story elements), we knew almost from the beginning exactly how it would end. So not only a laboured plot but the labouring done at the expense of the satire, I felt.

    There were also some very long turns by characters who appeared in the narrative just to make certain ideological points: the secret service agent, Alain Tanneur, for example, who is introduced twice just to make the case for one side of the book's principal argument; and the president of the Sorbonne university, Robert Rediger, who is twice brought on just to debate the other side of the argument - though I enjoyed the choice of name in Rediger’s case: the verb ‘rediger’ means ‘to write’ or ‘to write out formally’ and it is Rediger who gets to write out the guidelines for living (comfortably) in a French Muslim state; the satire in this part is quite well done but not taken as far as it might have been.

    That was my main problem with this book, the scenario is really too mild in the end. I think Houellebecq had several great ideas here and might have written something more powerful. But to do that, he’d have had to ditch his narrator at the abandoned motorway stop in the first half of this story.

    There! I ‘bared’ my teeth in spite of my good intentions…

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