This was such an interesting novel and I want to jot down my thoughts before I go off and read everybody else’s reviews. Politically, it’s a very prescient critique of the decline of the traditional political parties in the West, something that just came to pass with the rejection of the usual politicians in Brexit and Trump, and that bids to occur far and wide in the coming months. This makes the book not as shocking now as perhaps it was when the book first came out, with an Islamic party taking over France. Now, anything seems possible, even reasonable!
The book is so cynical that it had me in stitches. The protagonist is such a model of decadent modernity it’s laughable. He has his ‘big thoughts’ but they are always interruptable at a moment’s notice by anything related to fucking or food or booze. His own ‘conversion’, like that of his civilization, really comes down to getting fed, getting high and getting laid. The novel makes a key point about how the far-right political parties (and evangelicals, here in America) and Islamism are so close in their fundamentals, which boil down to return to patriarchy and re-asserting ‘traditional’ male dominance over women. The misogyny in the novel, and in the world it presents, is not merely repulsive, it is absolutely essential to its focus. Needless to say, the women in this novel are nothing more than “vessels”. It’s incredibly revolting – and revealing.
Will this reality come to pass? Will ‘modernity’ be rejected in the West, and will we go forward in retrograde toward a new Dark Ages (for women, gays, the poor, liberals, disabled people, anyone not of the ruling class, basically)? Maybe. I wouldn’t bet against it. History is long and it’s mostly been shit for most people. We like to think we’ve been moving beyond that now, but in ‘Submission’, Houllebecq presents a credible and realistic case for reactionary success, and it’s a bold and scary prospect.