He is idolised as France’s biggest literary export, a controversial poet-provocateur who holds up a mirror to the grim truths of contemporary France, reports .
So when Michel Houellebecq’s long-awaited novel, Serotonin, hit French bookstores on Friday morning with a massive print run of 320,000 copies, translations in several countries, and the author for the first time staying silent and refusing any interviews or media promotion, it was proclaimed a national event.
The novel’s release was accompanied by the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest national honour, being bestowed on the 62-year-old enfant terrible for his services to French literature by the president, Emmanuel Macron.
Serotonin, the story of a lovesick agricultural engineer who writes trade reports for the French agriculture ministry and loathes the EU, has been hailed by the French media as scathing and visionary. The novel rails against politicians who “do not fight for the interests of their people but are ready to die to defend free trade”.
Written before the current gilets jaunes anti-government movement began blockading roundabouts and tollbooths across France, it features desperate farmers in Normandy who stage an armed blockade of roads amid police clashes.
Houellebecq and his despairing, white, middle-aged, male narrators are seen as eerie predictors of the national mood. His last novel, Submission, which envisioned a France subjected to sharia law after electing a Muslim president in 2022, was published on 7 January 2015 and featured on the cover of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo just before terrorists stormed the offices of the publication and shot dead 12 people.
Platform, his earlier controversial novel about sex tourism and terrorism, came out a year before the Bali bombings of 2002.