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Guardian on Houellebecq's Latest

Not sure if the infamous French author is still missing or not, but his last novel, The Map and the Territory, just came out in the UK (it’s due out here in January) and the Guardian has a really enthusiastic write-up:

Michel Houellebecq’s new novel The Map and the Territory opens with an artist at work on a painting called Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst Dividing Up the Art Market. It is a realistic portrait of the two famous artists in conversation, based on their photographs in the media, and although the novel’s fictional artist character Jed Martin can capture Hirst quite easily with his brutish British arrogance, he can’t really get a visual grasp of Koons. In his despair at being unable to portray this “Mormon pornographer”, he destroys the canvas.

The painting’s analysis of the art market is pursued later in the book, however. When Martin himself becomes rich, his dealer points out that now he would be in a position to exhibit that work – before, it might have seemed like sour grapes. The painting was meant to record the moment when Hirst replaced Koons as the number one selling contemporary artist in the world. This marked the triumph – according to Houellebecq’s novel – of death and morbid fear over pornography and pleasure.

Those who come to Houellebecq’s novel for a satire on the contemporary art world will find more than they bargained for. This is the brilliant and controversial French writer’s most intellectually ambitious book. The way it portrays the contemporary art world is both deadpan and subtle. On one level, Houellebecq makes it plain he is not claiming anything like an accurate reportage of the art scene: the career of Jed Martin is shaped by the patronage of Michelin, a gloriously surreal idea that does not really bear any resemblance to the art world – the target here is, rather, France and Frenchness.

Can’t wait . . . Maybe Knopf will actually send us a galley of this one. (Still waiting for 1Q84 . . . )



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