No Country For Bold Men

This article is from the Spring 2020 edition of the IPA Review.

One of the striking features of the coronavirus recession is that, as IPA research has demonstrated, a chart of the economy now displays a ‘K’ shape. The K’s ascending line displays how bureaucrats and the bureaucracy-adjacent are doing fine, while the K’s descending line shows everyone else is suffering mightily. In this context, Michel Houellebecq’s novel from late last year, Serotonin—which I spoke about on the IPA’s Looking Forward 2019 Christmas special—takes on a somewhat different complexion from how it was received upon release.

Houellebecq is France’s pre-eminent novelist. He has become famous for his acidic takes on modern life, dealing with classic French themes such as the loss of meaning that confronts the ostensibly free individual. He is probably most famous to English-speaking audiences for his 2015 novel, Submission, which was controversial for its depiction of a France in which the Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidency. The release of a Houellebecq novel is now a literary event, perhaps the last of its kind.

At the time of its release, Serotonin attracted headlines for capturing the concerns that animated the ‘yellow jackets’ movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes) that roiled through France in 2019; especially the idea that France’s regions had been forgotten in the march of globalisation, which has overwhelmingly benefitted the cities. While this is indeed a theme in the book, by making his narrator a depressed and inert department hack Houellebecq aims the critique at a quite specific target: more than anyone else, it is the bureaucrats who have killed France.

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