Tuesday 10 April 2012

France today a la Houellebecq

Visitors and writing don't mix, despite strenuous efforts. Neither do events like the annual Passover ritual of the Seder. Our household will only tolerate a Humanist Haggadah (a Godless one) and the one I've downloaded for us to use is so limp as to have no impact on readers. T and I immediately set about correcting it with the help of the old Progressive Haggadah, finding the bits that would be acceptable to our atheists and inserting them where we could. Every now and then T would say something which I thought  worth writing down as well, and I think that we might in due course make our own Haggadah, rewrite it at the seder and make something with more oomph and less political correctness. One can be oomphy and still offend no one, there is no need to crawl and creep around.

The discipline of writing was rewarding as managed to do some for my own book which I am pleased with. Today there was no time due to preparations for the Seder. But got home early thinking about writing and managed to squeeze this in.

The author I have been obsessed with over the last four days is Michel Houellebecq, winner of the 2010 Prix Goncourt for his book, La carte et le territoire (Flammarion, 2010)- published in English as The map and the Territory (translated by Gavin Bowd, Knopf). A review was published in the Canadian Globe and mail which explains the controversy around him well. Houellebecq's reader is given an insight into the way France is now - different from how I remember it from my childhood many years ago. The insights he provides document the status quo, a little as if he were a friend arriving with news he knows I'll want to know.

What kind of thing? That only 10% of the people staying at French tourist hotels are actually French, many of the visitors are Chinese and Russian. The French can no longer afford their own hotels. (P said glumly - I suppose that will be true in the UK as well). That there are areas of Paris where the police dare not go because gangs have taken over. I have heard since that he calls Islam a 'stupid' religion - or was it 'idiotic'? I'd like to read the piece where he says that, to find out why.

Some of the patterns of modern life he describes are familiar, and those ring true, so I am inclined to believe the rest as well. I also very much like his style of writing, which takes the back step, so that you can concentrate on the content or rather listen easily to his light voice telling you a story you want more of.

Am now reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Slow and fast (Farar Straus & Giroux, 2011). A thick tome, reads marvelously - no effort involved, though one is aware of being shown things and being made to think.

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