23 January 09 | Chad W. Post

Flammarion released Ennemis Publics—a series of letters between French “bad boys” Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq—last fall, and based on the recent review in the Times Literary Supplement, this sounds like it would be a lot of fun to read, even if it’s not as over-the-top and aggressive as it could be:

Michel Houellebecq’s opening shot in Ennemis publics, an exchange of letters between the two men over the first half of 2008, ranks up there with the very best anti-Lévy prose: “A master of the damp squib and the farcical media hype, you bring dishonour even to the white shirts you wear. Intimate with the powerful, you have bathed in obscene wealth since childhood and typify what slightly low-brow magazines such as Marianne continue to call the ‘caviar left’ . . . . A philosopher without thought but not without connections, you are also the author of the most ridiculous film in the history of cinema”. [. . .]

After the first letter, however, the satirical vein runs out. The expected argument turns into a dialogue between the two about their lives, experiences of the Paris literary scene and their basic outlooks on the world. Much of it makes for interesting reading.

Their exchange about public attacks and unauthorized biographies sounds pretty compelling as well:

Houellebecq and Lévy not only shrink from vigorous engagement: they actively look for common ground. They find it in the fact that both have been targeted by “un-authorized” biographers, and in the plentiful abuse they receive. “I am attacked as few writers are. Each of my books draws an amount of insults that would dishearten many”, Lévy writes, adding that he never lets the hostility get to him. The novelist marvels at the philosopher’s thick skin.

Midway through the exchange, Houellebecq is subjected to the mother of all attacks: a memoir by the woman who gave birth to him, and left him to be raised by others. Lucie Ceccaldi, now eighty-three, calls her estranged son a pervert and a liar. Houellebecq’s reaction is distressed, but he reserves his anger for those who publicized what he says should have remained a private dispute – although in Les Particules élémentaires (Atomized), the novel of 1998 which made him famous, he names one of the worst mothers in French literature after his own.

Seriously, does anyone know if this is being translated into English? Seems like it should/would be, but I haven’t heard anything . . .


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