Author, Book review, Books in translation, Fiction, France, literary fiction, Michel Houellebecq, Publisher, Setting, Vintage

‘Atomised’ by Michel Houellebecq


Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 379 pages; 2001. Translated from the French by Frank Wynne.

I don’t even know where to begin this review. It’s no exaggeration to say that Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised is profound; it stayed with me long after I’d finished the last page.

It’s not a normal novel by any stretch of the imagination, encompassing as it does, a sociopolitical history of the 20th century. Atomised touches on many big themes, including the soullessness of existence and how the human condition — our individuality — is the root of much unhappiness.

Through the story of two half brothers, growing up apart but in similar social conditions, Houellebecq is able to explore the nature/nurture paradigm. His characters, one an unfeeling academic and the other a sex-obsessed wanderer, are both emotionally distant and struggling to make sense of their lives. In many ways this search mirrors the shallowness of today’s society.

I found Atomised to be an incredible, thought-provoking and highly intelligent read. While the subject matter is deep, intense and thick with ideas, the book is a surprisingly genuine page turner. I will be recommending this to everyone I meet; it’s one of those rare books that is both enriching and entertaining.

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