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You can like us here. Please, please, please like us.
by Haran X
Thank you for your essay entitled, ‘The Top 10 Goals of Arsenal and England striker, Wellbeck.’
Unfortunately, we are unable to publish your article as we were actually looking for a lengthy, post-structuralist critique of the controversial French author, Houellebecq.
The Editor, London Review of Books
It would flout publishing etiquette and irrevocably destroy my self-respect to go back to the editor of LRB and resubmit a review of Michel Houellebecq’s sixth novel, Soumission. (That’s ‘Submission’ to people who can’t read French or make simple interlingual inferences). As a result, I’ve published my review here instead, on the Faking Lit website – a blog so popular it has an Alexa rank of 0.
I ought to like Michel Houellebecq. As a lonely, misanthropic, sexually-frustrated adult male who blames my lack of mating success solely on the unbalanced free-market dynamics of the dating world, I really ought to like Michel Houellebecq.
In Whatever (Extension du domaine de la lutte), his first novel, Houellebecq advances the claim, that:
“In a totally liberal economic system certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment and misery. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude.”
As a man who regularly finds himself crywanking after 1,472 right swipes on Tinder without a match, it’s hard for me to argue with that reasoning. Clearly I’m one of the liberal system’s losers, a veteran member of the sexually unemployed. And, unlike the economically unemployed, I don’t have friends with benefits.
In Atomised (also known as The Elementary Particles), one of the main protagonists is an undersexed, socially-awkward, academic type who uses terms like “interlingual inferences.” Jesus, what a pretentious, but nevertheless handsome twat.
Even closer to the bone, Daniel1 of Houellebecq’s fourth novel, The Possibility of an Island, is a sexually-frustrated, bald man who performs stand-up comedy. With characters like those, reading a Houellebecq novel is like reading a mirror. No, I don’t mean that the letters are back-to-front or that someone has drawn a cock and balls on them using condensation. Rather, I mean that Houellebecq’s characters so profoundly resonate with me. They’re lonely, bitter, serial onanists who pine for affection – the type of people ripe for radicalisation by ISIS, the alt-right or the gluten-free movement.
Given this affinity for his characters then, why do I have no love for the author revered by Random House as ‘the most important French novelist since Camus’?
In short, it’s because he’s boring. Samey. Dull. Samey. If the plots of all his novels were to be summarised into a single song lyric by the early 90’s rap group, Salt N Pepa, it would read:
“Let’s talk about my lack of sex, baby.”
To be fair to Houellebecq; in addition to sex, he also talks about death; and arguably all great art is about sex and death. Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot, Sirizitky’s Emannuelle in Space and Motteux’s Autoerotic-asphyxiation Gone Wrong (Volume II) are all good examples of this. Crucially, however, Houellebecq’s novels are exclusively about lack of sex and death. And, for some reason, this combination of themes does not make for great art; instead it’s tedious, especially as a motif repeated across six novels.
To illustrate my point, allow me to supply you with the condensed storylines of Houellebecq’s first five novels.
(Warning: the preceding text contained spoilers).
In Submission, the sixth novel, Houellebecq changes his tune ever so slightly. Instead of dying, Francois, a man who can’t get laid, ends up converting to Islam. Finally! Vive la difference! But also, “plus ça change” – the book is still fundamentally about the same theme, namely a lack of sex and death. This is neatly embodied by the line:
“I didn’t even want to fuck her, or maybe I kind of wanted to fuck her but I also kind of wanted to die, I couldn’t really tell.”
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the best French author since Camus!
Even with Submission’s subtly different ending (i.e. Francois’ conversion to Islam), the fates of Houellebecq’s characters across his six novels now make for a rhyme that is far inferior to the one about King Henry VIII’s wives:
Died, died, died,
Died, died, converted to Islam.
Set in the year 2022, Submission takes place in a political climate where the National Front are set to win the French general election (or simply ‘general election’, as it’s known in France). Given the current state of French politics, this seems rather prescient of Houellebecq – Marine Le Pen could well become President.
Less realistic, however, are the socialist and centre-right parties joining forces with a new party called the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, Houellebecq’s prediction is vastly more accurate than a 2016 election poll or a 1987 Michael Fish weather forecast.
Anyhow, these various non-National-Front parties bandy behind the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Ben-Abbes. He gets through to the second round head-to-head run off, where his opponent is Marine Le Pen. Again, this scenario seems unrealistic for the year 2022, especially given the National Front’s views on climate change:
The National Front in 2012:
“I am not sure that human activity is the principal origin of this phenomenon”
– Marine Le Pen
– Submarine Le Pen
Somewhat predictably (from a literary point of view), Mohammed Ben-Abbes wins the final and now, shock horror, France has its first Muslim President. (It is unclear as to whether or not he is the son of a bus driver).
Meanwhile, fearing that he will no longer be able eat his favourite dish of alcohol-cured bacon, Francois, a 44-year-old academic at Paris-Sorbonne University, decides to quit his post and leave town. Presumably out of a modern hipster desire to brew craft Trappist beer, he takes refuge in a monastery in a far away French town.
Like every other Houellebecqian character, Francois is a self-pitying, lonely male who constantly bemoans his lack of sex and evaluates women solely on their aptitude for fellatio. It later transpires that Francois’ hot, young, Jewish girlfriend, named Myriam, has also decided to quit town. Wary of the new the Muslim government, anxious about rising anti-Semitism or perhaps motivated by a need to always outdo her boyfriend, she departs to a place that is even further away, Israel.
Understandably, Myriam’s departure upsets Francois; within him swells a sense of loss. Yet to Francois, this isn’t about a looming loss of companionship, emotional warmth or basic human attachment. No, instead he’s sad at the thought of all those blowjobs he’s going to miss out on. To Francois, Myriam is basically a Jewish Henry Hoover with a wig. In fact, the reader is baffled as to how François hasn’t already fallen in love with a Fleshlight or a hole-in-the-wall. After all, as he opines,
“For men, love is nothing more than gratitude for the gift of pleasure.”
When he’s not talking about blowjobs and DVDA, Francois waxes lyrical about the life of Joris-Karl Huysmans, the French novelist upon whom he wrote his PhD thesis. Like many academics who try to justify their Arts and Humanities Research Council funding, François makes the mistake of thinking that anyone beside himself cares or stands to benefit from his research. What follows are dull, protracted paragraphs about the colour of Huysmans’ skirting boards and other obscure “research” findings that are somehow supposed to advance civilisation. Arguably, Houellebecq is deliberately parodying the liberal intelligentsia here: those who cannot create art themselves are condemned to practise only lengthy critical (over) analysis of other people’s work. Sometimes on blogs.
Fortunately, Francois manages to bore himself (as well as the reader) with all this talk of Huysmans; he soon leaves the monastery and returns to Paris. Of course, Paris has now changed. It’s become Islamified. Women on campus are adorned with hijabs, Disneyland Paris has become a giant mosque; cafes spice up their Halal sushi with a dollop of Wahhabi.
Mohammed Ben-Abbes (the Muslim President, whose mother was Uncle Ben’s sister) has also expanded the EU and acceded Algeria and Saudi Arabia. This may sound preposterous, but bear in mind that Australia have entered the Eurovision Song Contest since 2015.
Francois’ previous workplace, the Paris-Sorbonne University, has changed too – it’s now been renamed the Islamic University of Paris-Sorbonne. Congruent with this, the university’s employees have also muslamified themselves. One recent convert to Islam, professor Robert Rediger, boasts to Francois about his multiple wives like a syphilitic bore at a stag-do. Naturally, this piques Francois’ interest. To him, the equation is simple: multiple wives = multiple blowjobs. Rather than marry a Hydra or buy several Henry Hoovers, Francois increases his fellatio opportunities by cannily converting Islam; he submits to the will of Allah.
So, is this book a satirical dig at Islam? Or is it a criticism of left-wing academics, whose reticence and anxiety over being seen as Islamophobic has led to destruction of Western secularism?
At the end of the book, it finally dawns upon the reader that ‘Islam’ means ‘submission’; and ‘submission’ is an integral component of BDSM. So, no, Houellebecq’s Soumission isn’t an edgy socio-political or religious satire, comparable to Orwell’s 1984 or Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. No, far more dully, it’s about sex, baby.
by Haran X
Modern people struggle with classic novels. Paralysed by an inability to read anything over 140 characters, their eyes rarely move beyond the first few sentences of the blurb of the abridged version of the Dummies’ Guide to the novel’s respective SparkNotes Study Aid. Naturally, such people are left bereft of any substantive understanding of the classics. Consider the following exchange with a student during my Russian literature lecture at the University of Bookarest:
“Now class, who can tell me what The Idiot is about?”
“Is it your autobiography, sir?”
Luckily, we at Faking Lit have much more tenacity than the decerebrated specimens that inundate Bookarest’s lecture halls and safe spaces. Yes, we are dedicated to reading classic novels in their entirety. One such book is The Bible. In Deuteronomy 6:16, someone (I assume Jesus) exclaims, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Of course, it later transpires that this ‘Lord your God’ character was merely trying to avoid an English exam for which he was ill prepared. He lacked tenacity.
By contrast, Faking Lit are happy to be tested on our literary knowledge. In fact, to prove that we have indeed read all classical novels to date (and not just the opening lines), I have taken the liberty of reproducing, from memory, some second lines from classical literature:
“Call me Ishmael”
“Ermm, I would prefer to use the term ‘transgender’.”
– Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure – basically she died when her plane crashed crossing the International Date Line during the start of Daylight Saving Time. “
– The Stranger by Albert Camus
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. So I stayed indoors and watched Netflix instead.”
– Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way. To summarise using formal logic notation: it was P and ¬ P.”
– A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. I later found out that this burning sensation was due to gonorrhoea.”
– Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. And also those almond croissants they sell at Pret.”
– Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“It was bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. That’s one o’clock in the afternoon using a 12-hour clock system. To be honest, I don’t know why I didn’t just simply write ‘1pm’.
– Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. Still, he consoled himself: as a cockroach, he could easily survive the impending North Korean nuclear attack.”
– The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good wife. Now, I ain’t saying she a gold digger, but Elizabeth Bennet wasn’t messin’ with no broke n***as.”
– Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Quod Erat Demonstradum.
By Chin Tee
By now we have all seen the movie and its sequels. Much like the gigantic prehistoric lizards that populate this narrative, Crichton’s cautionary tale of science and capitalism run amok loom large in the public consciousness and refuses to die. But does the book still hold up after all this time? Sadly, in this reviewer’s opinion, it does not. Time has not been kind to Crichton’s workmanlike prose, his thinly drawn characters and his by-the-numbers plotting.
But out of all the missteps that this book makes, perhaps the greatest was taking my daughter and leaving me alive.
I was immediately struck, upon picking up the book again, that despite my familiarity with the film franchise, the book was filled with much extraneous detail that my brain had consigned to oblivion, an indicator of just how forgettable many of the characters and sub-plots from the book were. However, I will not forget, nor will I forgive, should one hair on my daughter’s head be harmed.
Crichton seems to have an obsession with theme parks, having also written the screenplay for Westworld, another cautionary tale of science run amok set in another futuristic theme park. Perhaps he’s attracted to the innocence of theme parks, how they represent a place where people let their guard down and give in to the illusion of safety. A place where nothing bad can happen. But this is precisely the sort of complacency that prevented me from realizing the danger that my daughter was in. Only now do I realize that this mildly diverting narrative of dinosaurs resurrected through mosquitos and DNA was designed to make me take my eye off the ball. A mistake that I will never make again.
At times it’s hard to gauge the stance which Crichton wants the reader to take with regards to science, and it’s clear that novel owes a huge debt to that classic of rogue science, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. But Shelley’s book did not fetishize nor revel in the possibilities and wonders of science in the way Crichton clearly does. Indeed the heroes and the constant voices of reason tend to be the scientists. Dr Ian Malcolm perhaps comes closest to embodying this ambivalence to progress, being a chaos mathematician who comes across like a rock star and who effectively announces the moral quandary at the heart of the story in almost every line of dialogue he’s given. Namely that man must not play God. And if my daughter is not returned safely within the next 24 hours, God will not save you from my wrath. My vengeance will be swift and it will be brutal. And it certainly won’t unfold over the course of 448 pages of intermittent excitement.
In short, “Jurassic Park”, you messed with the wrong family. I am coming for you. There is no place on earth that you can hide. You made it personal. And now I am your judge, jury and executioner. Prepare for blood.
By Daniel Offen
Along with hundreds of thousands of other children I read The Old Man and the Sea as a part of my GCSE syllabus, I probably wouldn’t have touched it otherwise. The general consensus among our class was that it was a book about a man who was bad at catching a fish and not much else. The claims of our teacher that the fish, or the old man, or anything else, represented an attempt by Earnest Hemingway to talk about anything greater than fishing were viewed with extreme suspicion.
Just last week an old school friend told me over a disappointing Wetherspoon’s burrito (even given low expectations) that he’d generally enjoyed the books we’d read in school aside from The Old Man and the Sea because it was about fishing and nothing else, and he did not like fishing. He emphasised the point by slamming his fork down into his nachos in search of cheese but only sending tiny dry splinters all across the table.
Teenagers would have us believe that Earnest Hemingway is in effect a humble failed sports writer; his attempts to cover competitive fishing purposefully misinterpreted as religious allegory by charlatan intellectuals to obtain grant money. They imagine Hemingway getting increasingly frustrated as his simple accounts of events are ascribed meaning he’d never even considered. “Thank you sending me your report on the Champions League final Earnest, but you appear to have actually sent me a literary masterpiece concerning man’s competition with his inner beast. Could you perhaps write a little more on Carlo Ancolotti’s unexpected use of 442?”
The above image shows the general attitude towards literary analysis – the idea that writers might inject their work with subtext is seen as nonsensical. If a writer describes a thing, that’s what they’re doing, just describing a thing. Such detail is necessary because readers are incapable of imaging anything without being given the exact dimensions of every object they’re supposed to conjure up in their mind’s eye. Really, writers don’t generally bother laying out every dull detail of the world, simply because it’s barely relevant. The only writer who does is Dan Brown and he is, in fact, not a proper author at all. Instead, The Da Vinci code was instead a version of the Argos catalogue that got out of hand, subsequently cobbled into a book by a skilled editor.
Anyway, back to The Old Man and the Sea. I’ll do a quick plot summary, but honestly most of the information you need is contained in the title. An old man is having a dry spell, so he goes to try to catch one last fish and then catches a very big one, but it takes him ages. It’s a pyrrhic victory, with the old man, the name of whom I’ve since forgotten, returning with little more than a massive skeleton, which is useless because fish bones are irritating and barely even good for stock.
The great thing about simplicity in literature, or indeed art in general, is that is creates a vacuum of interpretation where the reader, starved of content, must formulate their own ideas of the text. This is more nuanced than, but comparable to, giving a restaurant patron only plain bread as a meal then insisting that they’ve actually been given a culinary masterpiece because “the true sustenance exists in the spaces between the food.”
Perhaps, though, Hemingway’s famously simple style is primarily the result of laziness, maybe he doesn’t use long words because he can’t be bothered to type them up, or look up what they mean. He does, often, seem to argue that his brevity is a particularly manly way of writing. It’s only women, who have nothing to say but so much time to say it, he implies, who can be bothered to use such long words. Men, who are too busy with manly pursuits like shooting animals, chopping wood and wanking, simply don’t have the time.
The Old man in the Sea is a triumph of this style, though. It’s such a slight book in terms of plot that if it were any longer it would be interminable. It seems odd to allow a book to be described as a masterpiece only because it’s so short that it never becomes boring, but short books are an enterprise of which I am massively in favour. Only unspeakable arrogant writers, like Victor Hugo and J.K.Rowling believe that their vision is so important it needs to be told at length. The most humble, and therefore best, writer is Eric Carle who’s masterpiece The Very Hungry Caterpillar said all that it needed to in about 12 pages.
And, really, does the Very Hungry Caterpillar, if you really think about it, say anything less than The Old Man in the Sea? It’s a similar story of ambition, hunger and rebirth. There’s a religious allegory in both. There’s a discussion of masculinity, though you need to look quite deep to find this in TVHC, whose gender is never actually revealed. The brevity of both is to their aid, never expanding on their themes to the point where they rule some out; they leave open a wealth of interpretation that would otherwise not exist. This in mind, I’ve decided to cut this article shorter than originally planned. True quality is not found in length, at least that’s what I always say, anyway.
by Haran X MD MA (Cantab) BA (Baracus)
The first thing that is noticeable about this book is its sheer heft. Epic, gargantuan, massive – these are just some words that David Foster Wallace would eschew in favour of something more pretentious when describing the size of Infinite Jest. At a staggering 1079 pages (96 of which are footnotes largely containing the names of various pharmaceutical manufacturers), the book’s corpulence comes in handy for its many non-literary roles: a door stop, a tofu press, a sinking device for lying witches during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. This last use strikes me as odd; I would much rather be burned at the stake for witchcraft than be in any way connected to this turgid wankfest of a book. It is thoroughly unreadable. As you may know, alongside Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, Infinite Jest is renowned for sitting unfinished on a bookshelf, collecting dust and contributing to an increased incidence of potentially-fatal asthma attacks. Why on earth would you purchase this book then? Well, it does make you look clever at dinner parties, doesn’t it?
Of course, unlike the philistine masses with their porn-addled brains and their Vines and their The Hives and their inability to delay gratification, we at Faking Lit are committed to reading books from start to finish. Even the rubbish ones. And, trust me, this one was rubbish. Regardless of its girth, my copy of Infinite Jest lies on my bookshelf finished, a lugubrious monument to the 10,000 hours I wasted reading this tome. According to pseudoscientist and ‘America’s Best-Paid Fairy-Tale Writer’, Malcolm Gladwell, by investing a total of 10,000 hours in an activity, one is transformed into a world-class exponent of that activity. A concert pianist, a chess Grandmaster, an academic expert who has caused Michael Gove to feel fed-up – they’ve all put in the requisite hours. After finishing Infinite Jest, I too achieved world-class status – I became expert at crying at the massive opportunity cost of having invested so long reading this fucking book. To think, in a parallel universe where I hadn’t read this book, I could instead be at Carnegie Hall or rubbing Gary Kasparov’s nose in it. Alas, here I am writing this review.
The book opens with a cloyingly sycophantic foreword by David Eggers. Unsurprisingly, Eggers is gushing about Wallace, describing the book as “clever,” “verbose” but nevertheless ”approachable.” Despite the book containing words such as “egregulous” and “(C2H5CO)2O2”, Eggers boasts that the book “uses familiar enough vocabulary” and “doesn’t include complex scientific or historical content.” Well then, for a man of such vast intellect (as is to be expected of a man who seemingly unironically calls his own work ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’), I guess David Eggers will understand me when I say that he’s a massive C4H4AsH.[i]
At one point, Eggers interrupts his posthumous arse-licking of Wallace, to ask, “Is it our duty to read Infinite Jest?” I suppose it is, in the same way Kamikaze pilots and Salafist suicide bombers have to fulfil duties of some sort. Even the character names are annoying: Pemulis, Lamont Chu, Medical attaché – what is wrong with a good old-fashioned name such as John, Mohammed, or Joey Jo-Jo Junior Shabadoo?
Throughout the book, it is difficult to discern whether or not DFW has some insight into what he is doing. Is he some Andy Kaufman type character, deliberately trying to irk his audience? A literary anti-comedian, perhaps? Or is he more like Kanye West? That is, is he simply impervious to the harm he inflicts upon the audience with his grating self-indulgence, like a person blissfully unaware of the fart they have just imposed on the rest of the train carriage? I would put money on the latter theory – the author has his head so far up his own arse, that the only audience he probably had in mind when writing this book were the cilia of his own small intestine.
Having read the book (which I definitely have), it soon becomes apparent that David Foster Wallace likes tennis. He really likes tennis. While a smug, ‘literary’ type taking a rare interest in sport is to be applauded, there is a difference between an intense passion for something and what can only be described as Idiot Savant Syndrome – the fruits of the latter do not make for good reading. Here’s just one sentence from page 243 to illustrate my point:
“After the six singles tennis matches there are three doubles tennis, with a team’s best two singles tennis players usually turning around and also playing #1 doubles tennis – with occasional exceptions, e.g. the Vaught twins, or the fact that Schacht and Troeltsch, way down on the B tennis squad in 18’s singles tennis, play #2 doubles tennis on E.T.A.’s 18’s A tennis team, because they’ve been a doubles tennis team since they were incontinent toddlers back in Philly, and they’re so experienced and smooth together they can wipe surfaces with the 18’s A team’s #3 and #4 singles tennis guys, Coyle and Axford, who prefer to skip doubles tennis altogether tennis tennis.”
Yes, DFW actually expects us to wade through this shite. Infinite Jest is littered with tonnes of these overly analytical, obsessive and stiflingly long, passages about what – let’s face it- is just a glorified, human version of Pong. On reading such lengthy passages, the reader is again posed with a dilemma. Are we supposed to pity the author for his stunning lack of self-awareness? Should we feel the same mix of sadness and vicarious embarrassment that we experience when seeing that stoic open mic comedian die at yet another gig? Maybe we should. Yet, after the above one-sentence passage about singles and doubles tennis, DFW admits that it (i.e. the passage about tennis) is:
“…probably not at all that interesting…”
Fuck me, has he finally got it? Does this brief moment of lucidity suggest he is actually aware of the utter tedium he is committing to paper? In which case, rather than pity the man, should we admire DFW for his sheer audacity?
Luckily the book isn’t just about tennis. Infinite Jest has four separate narratives, which are interwoven into one, whole story. The effect of this however, much to the detriment of the reader, is the opposite of that demonstrated by the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: the whole is significantly less than the sum of its parts.
Without wanting to give too much away, the other non-tennis narratives include: the terrorist plot of a differently-abled Quebec separatist group, the life and times of a bloke called Hal Incandenza and the troubles of various drug addicts in the Boston area.
As embodied by the latter group, addiction is the central theme of this book. Craving. Dependence. Fixation. Peversely, readers of this book suffer from the complete opposite of addiction, finding themselves with every word wanting to put the book down and abscond to a preliterate society. Actually, on second thought, maybe one does indeed experience something of the process of addiction on reading this book – but exclusively the unbearable comedown and withdrawal part. Reading Infinite Jest, then, is to experience 1079 pages of the dead-baby-crawling-the-ceiling scene in Trainspotting. One could subsequently not blame the reader for choosing life or a fucking big television over reading this book.
If the book is so dreadful, you may ask, then why the 2 stars? Infinite Jest is not without its merits. Shamelessly displaying the book while sitting on the London Underground is a good way to broadcast your culturedness and hipster credentials to fellow passengers. Who knows, it may even lead to a copulatory opportunity with the kind of god-awful person who puts the word “sapiosexual” on their Tinder Profile. (Just be sure to abort any ensuing children. Perhaps by getting the foetus to read Infinite Jest too).
[i] C4H4AsH is an organoarsenic compound more commonly known as ‘arsole’.