Whatever : A Novel, Paperback
2 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Just thirty, with a well-paid job, no love life and a terrible attitude, the anti-hero of this grim, funny novel smokes four packs of cigarettes a day and writes weird animal stories in his spare time.

A computer programmer by day, he is tolerably content, until he's packed off with a colleague - the sexually-frustrated Raphael Tisserand - to train provincial civil servants in the use of a new computer system Houellebecq's first novel was a smash hit in France, expressing the misanthropic voice of a generation.

Like A Confederacy of Dunces, Houellebecq's bitter, sarcastic and exasperated narrator vociferously expresses his frustration and disgust with the world.




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Not among Houellebecq's best.

Review by

I have a collection of books I have been picking and choosing from, usually on the basis of, "what sounds good today?" and this was the most recent book I chose.The first thing that has to be said is that I did not really care. I did not care what happened to the protagonist; there was never a point where I connected with him on an intellectual level ("hey, maybe this guy has a point! I can see where he's coming from...") or an emotional level ("I hope things work out for this guy, I really want to see him find a way to resolve his struggle"). Like any criticism leveled at a book, it may say something about the quality of the book or something about the quality of the reader.I can't say that the ideas expressed in the book are totally off. Houellebecq's protagonist isn't the first to cast sex as a kind of economics, not only that but a kind of economics where (at least in a non-monogamous world) there are haves and have-nots. By the end, he has divided the world into Mars (fear, money, power, domination, masculinity) and Venus (sex, seduction) and seems vexed that there is nothing else in the world. I can sympathize, the idea that there is nothing in life except material and sexual hierarchy is very vexing, and when you find it difficult to escape the notion it can become maddening. When sex and resources cease to be cast as matters that enrich you life and instead become the only content of your life, the world seems very small indeed. This is interesting. This is an interesting concept that can be explored and wrestled with.But I still felt no intellectual connection with the protagonist. Maybe I am uncharitable, but I just don't see how two years without sex is cause for someone to lose their minds. If sex drought makes you sob intermittently throughout the day, your psyche probably was not built to last in the first place, and you don't make a very suitable model for a struggle that the modern human faces. I do say that some of his ideas have merit, but I would have to say that his reaction to his struggle smacks of someone trying to give their lives an existential flavor by portraying their petty struggles as existential crises that suck all the joy out of their lives. It worked in The Stranger, because the fact of death reasonably seems like the sort of thing that can suck the color out of life. That is a real struggle that anyone can face in their lives. Lack of sex is a reason to get a faster internet connection, not a reason to try to get your liquored-up friend to go kill people on a beach.Maybe if he had spent some time exploring what it means to live in a world that seems to be dominated by competition for resources and competition for sex - and how to move beyond such a life, I would have been interested. Maybe if he tried to live in defiance of a life. Hell, even if he decided that that was just how life is and decided to go with it, I would have been emotionally invested. But he apparently just decides to start losing control of his mind, and that is rather boring to me.So, he had some interesting ideas that are worth exploring; it just all gets lost in a very boring descent into madness.Oh well, it wasn't too long, no great loss. Whatever....

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