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Whatever (Serpent's Tail Classics)

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Just thirty, with a well-paid job, depression and no love life, the narrator and anti-hero par excellence of this grim, funny, and clever novel smokes four packs of cigarettes a day and writes weird animal stories in his spare time. A painfully realistic portrayal of the vanishing freedom of a world governed by science and by the empty rituals of daily life.


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Just thirty, with a well-paid job, depression and no love life, the narrator and anti-hero par excellence of this grim, funny, and clever novel smokes four packs of cigarettes a day and writes weird animal stories in his spare time. A painfully realistic portrayal of the vanishing freedom of a world governed by science and by the empty rituals of daily life.

30 review for Whatever (Serpent's Tail Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Endless Adolescence Meh. An amalgam of Harry Enfield (as Kevin the Teenager), Charles Anthony Bruno (Strangers on a Train), with a smackerol of Patrick Bateman (American Psycho). Praised in some quarters for its balance of philosophy and gritty dialogue, it's difficult to tell whether Whatever is really meant to be taken seriously...and, if so, as what. An angry, possibly psychotic 30ish IT nerd with an awkward adolescence has a breakdown and recovers...or perhaps he doesn't. It doesn't matter mu Endless Adolescence Meh. An amalgam of Harry Enfield (as Kevin the Teenager), Charles Anthony Bruno (Strangers on a Train), with a smackerol of Patrick Bateman (American Psycho). Praised in some quarters for its balance of philosophy and gritty dialogue, it's difficult to tell whether Whatever is really meant to be taken seriously...and, if so, as what. An angry, possibly psychotic 30ish IT nerd with an awkward adolescence has a breakdown and recovers...or perhaps he doesn't. It doesn't matter much either way. Maybe it's necessary to be French to get it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    The British translator or publisher should be beheaded for calling this book "Whatever" when its French title is something amazing like "Extension of the Domain of the Struggle" -- if we otherwise lived in a total utopia, I'd say restoring the English translation's title to something closer to the original would be a major issue in this year's elections. This one seemed at first like it was written by someone other than the masterful dude who did "The Elementary Particles" and "The Possibility o The British translator or publisher should be beheaded for calling this book "Whatever" when its French title is something amazing like "Extension of the Domain of the Struggle" -- if we otherwise lived in a total utopia, I'd say restoring the English translation's title to something closer to the original would be a major issue in this year's elections. This one seemed at first like it was written by someone other than the masterful dude who did "The Elementary Particles" and "The Possibility of an Island". I blamed the translator at first, then Houellebecq's youth, and considered it in the 2/3-star range: intemittently clever but otherwise "eh". But then the narrator goes to a club for young singles and things take off - steam gathers, themes condense, the prose pushes ahead and doesn't just muse about the connection between moving furniture (especially beds) and suicide. What's cool too is that many of the themes are the same ones he develops in later books, but here he's a little more flatly vulgar or theoretical, his tone/style shifts (occasionally exuberantly purple and then also a bit more spare/poetic at times too, more regionally French). But then things really rise and end well in the 3/4-star range (nails the landing). Definitely worth reading, and maybe even re-reading, considering it's 154 not-so-dense pages. Anyway, whatever: I'd like to petition for a new translation by Gavin Bowd or Frank Wynne, someone who'd respect the original title and maybe debritishify things a bit.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Fabian

    A "Naked Lunch" minus all that heroin, a "Fight Club" minus the cast of rambunctious spacemonkeys. A voice as singular (and freshly French) as Francoise Sagan's. A Novella that is ambitious, small, bitter-- it hints at the horrible and barely makes note of the magical in the everyday. Boredom is the biggest enemy, as WE ALL KNOW. Brutal, smart, crazy, incredibly edgy, a stylish nouvelle-classique at only 155 pages!

  4. 4 out of 5

    K.D. Absolutely

    The pervasive emptiness of human life is the main theme of this book. Thirty-year old narrator is a computer engineer in France and he is living alone in his apartment. In his spare time, he writes about animals, smokes four packs of cigarettes a day, has no friends, he has no sex life. While reading, even if I am already 49, I could feel the narrator's loneliness. I have all those he lacks, I write book reviews and read a lot and all those keep my idle mind busy when I am supposed to be relaxin The pervasive emptiness of human life is the main theme of this book. Thirty-year old narrator is a computer engineer in France and he is living alone in his apartment. In his spare time, he writes about animals, smokes four packs of cigarettes a day, has no friends, he has no sex life. While reading, even if I am already 49, I could feel the narrator's loneliness. I have all those he lacks, I write book reviews and read a lot and all those keep my idle mind busy when I am supposed to be relaxing. We know that evil thoughts normally lurk in one's idle mind. I am an I.T. manager and have been in I.T. or related fields for most of my 30-year corporate life. I can say that I.T. is oftentimes really a sad profession. You deal with a machine every hour of your working day. You make sure that it runs and your users are happy. You make sure that the behavior of the program is predictable, efficient and repetitive. You make sure that the reports the big shots in the company are accurate and always available at their fingertips. The narrator, in this first book by Michel Houllebecq, is an unnamed person does not find meaning in anything he does. At 30, he is still a virgin and so he frequently masturbates along in his apartment. Probably because of this, he finds women as pure sexual objects or object of his masturbatory fantasies. Probably because of this, he has difficulty relating to them. One day, he and his co-worker Tisserand are sent to Rouen to train users on a software. It this there when twists to their empty lives happen that eventually lead to fatal death to one of them. The prevalent mood of the book is bleak and sad. There are some funny moments because I always find humor in solitude, that's how weird I sometimes get. Houellebecq's writing is sparse and edgy. Sometimes, his thoughts go everywhere, i.e., directionless but I supposed that he is just trying to reflect to his readers the nature of the character. This is my first Houellebecq and I am happy that I finally tried reading him. Definitely not my last.

  5. 5 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    You have this friend who works in IT. He is rendered sick at the torturous formality and bureaucratic inevitability of existence, and slaps you on the face twice before bursting into tears. You phone his friend Tisserand who is unbearably ugly and hits on you twice, for help. You say: “You are so hideous, no woman would go anywhere near you, you disgusting pustule of a man.” Tisserand breaks down in tears but comes back with a brutal salvo: “You women are callous stiff planks who’re only out for You have this friend who works in IT. He is rendered sick at the torturous formality and bureaucratic inevitability of existence, and slaps you on the face twice before bursting into tears. You phone his friend Tisserand who is unbearably ugly and hits on you twice, for help. You say: “You are so hideous, no woman would go anywhere near you, you disgusting pustule of a man.” Tisserand breaks down in tears but comes back with a brutal salvo: “You women are callous stiff planks who’re only out for yourselves!” Or words to that effect. But your friend who works in IT is looking extremely peaky. He, naturally, has no problem getting laid (despite his own physical shortcomings, i.e. he looks like Michel Houellebecq) but he does seem to be coming down with a bad case of lifesickness. Clearly, traveling around France training people in IT packages is no sound basis for a life. So your friend writes strange animal stories then checks himself into a psych ward. You don’t hear from him for a while, for he is a gone man. A long gone man. (P.S. Worst cover and mistranslated title ever. Original: Extension du domaine de la lutte). Favourite passage: “Writing brings scant relief. It retraces, it delimits. It lends a touch of coherence, the idea of a kind of realism. One stumbles around in a cruel fog, but there is the odd pointer. Chaos is no more than a few feet away. A meagre victory, in truth. What a contrast with the absolute, miraculous power of reading! An entire life spent reading would have fulfilled my every desire; I already knew that at the age of seven. The texture of the world is painful, inadequate; unalterable, or so it seems to me. Really, I believe that an entire life spent reading would have suited me best. Such a life has not been granted me.” (p12)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    2.75 stars If there was ever a writer who has dished out multiple blows to society’s nervous system then Houellebecq is that writer. He writes with a declaration of hostilities, with a filthy-minded stronghold for abjection, like he has nothing to lose. He knows a lot of people probably despise him, but does he really care? While I can't say I would want him as a friend, I will say that I've read much worse writers than him. I actually thought Atomised was really good, thought Platform was not ba 2.75 stars If there was ever a writer who has dished out multiple blows to society’s nervous system then Houellebecq is that writer. He writes with a declaration of hostilities, with a filthy-minded stronghold for abjection, like he has nothing to lose. He knows a lot of people probably despise him, but does he really care? While I can't say I would want him as a friend, I will say that I've read much worse writers than him. I actually thought Atomised was really good, thought Platform was not bad, but didn't think much of Lanzarote, which featured a totally dislikeable narrator I so wanted to kick in the nuts. I guess this novel sits somewhere in the middle, probably trying to grope the others. Our protagonist here could have easily appeared in any of those later novels above, so not a lot has changed there in that respect: basically, our guy is a sexually frustrated asshole. Reflecting bitterly on his inability to seduce the opposite sex, and the exhaustion of even trying that goes with it, our disaffected computer expert takes a work trip to the provinces with a gormless colleague. After a series of humiliations at foul discotheques, he encourages his colleague to commit a killing in revenge for his exclusion from an erotic paradise. With a mood of sexual paranoia, Houellebecq brutally, with malicious intent, writes of sexuality as a system of social hierarchy, and how sexual liberation would have been better off out of fashion. Might have thought more of this had I not read the others, but he's now starting to become a bit of a bore. I'm just hoping Submission is something entirely different if I decide to read that.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kamil

    This is my first Houellebecq so I still give him the benefit of doubt. Even more so since it's only his debut novel. Poor writing and sexist. A critique of society, that supposed to be his main forte, is flat and banal. Yet another story about emptiness of corporate life and a guy that sees the point of life in "love". Love not meaning creating a partnership with a woman but simply fucking her. In the same time constantly whining how the only woman in his life that mattered was selfish and damag This is my first Houellebecq so I still give him the benefit of doubt. Even more so since it's only his debut novel. Poor writing and sexist. A critique of society, that supposed to be his main forte, is flat and banal. Yet another story about emptiness of corporate life and a guy that sees the point of life in "love". Love not meaning creating a partnership with a woman but simply fucking her. In the same time constantly whining how the only woman in his life that mattered was selfish and damaged by shallowness of modern relations, and basically was a bitch and a loose one. Another antihero of modern literature? Ok I could take that but only if it wasn't so trivial.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Grand Prix national des lettres It's funny that Houellebecq's debut novel from 1994 was deemed scandalous upon publication, especially considering what he wrote later. In "Extension of the Combat Zone" (idiotic English title: Whatever), we get a remarkable amount of themes that will later be turned into major plot points or whole novels, and the story culminates in an evil spin on Camus' The Stranger that leads straight into madness à la Büchner's Lenz. Our nameless, 30-ish protagonist works for Grand Prix national des lettres It's funny that Houellebecq's debut novel from 1994 was deemed scandalous upon publication, especially considering what he wrote later. In "Extension of the Combat Zone" (idiotic English title: Whatever), we get a remarkable amount of themes that will later be turned into major plot points or whole novels, and the story culminates in an evil spin on Camus' The Stranger that leads straight into madness à la Büchner's Lenz. Our nameless, 30-ish protagonist works for a software firm in Paris, earns well, but has hardly any social contacts - as he is also the narrator, his overall feeling of defeat lingers on every page, and it's also the main provocation here: A fairly rich guy feels defeated by the way the world is structured, and his overwhelming alienation drives him to commit an hideous act. Think American Psycho if Bateman was a middle-class French depressive. Until we get there though, we accompany him on business trips implementing software for the French Ministry of Agriculture, meeting various corporate and administrative types (Houellebecq, an agricultural engineer who himself worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, would discuss the clash between nature/farming and automation/efficiency again in 2019's Serotonin). As the protagonist is already deemed unstable, he is teamed up with his colleague Tisserand, a 28-year-old virgin who is desperately seeking to connect with a woman. Meanwhile, the depression and cynicism of the protagonist worsens, leading to a heart condition (go figure) and prompting him to make a fatal suggestion to Tisserand... The narrative frame is also already very typical for this author (although he would later considerably step up his game): The language remains true to the narrator, ergo: it is plain and cynical, and there are numerous discursive passages pondering the state of the world - Houellebecq would later reach peek debate literature in Plattform and, of course, Submission. The title refers to the world view of the narrator as well: The "combat zone" is the realm of the world adolescents enter and grown-ups live in, a world structured, he argues, by mechanisms of power, money and domination on the one hand and sex on the other. Interestingly, the narrator, who has given up fighting in this battle, is frequently addresssing his readers directly, elaborating on his views regarding a society dominated by the logic of neo-liberal capitalism and social Darwinism (there is even a sub-story about euthanasia - hello, The Map and the Territory). I'm endlessly fascinated by Houellebecq's writing, and while this certainly isn't his best effort, "Extension..." and Lanzarote read like books that lay the foundation for other works and are thus interesting for people trying to get to the core of his narratolgy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cbj

    Whatever is a truly entertaining and dangerous novel. Entertaining because Houellebecq must have had a lot of fun while writing it, thinking about all the people he would piss off. I certainly had a lot of fun reading it. It is dangerous for a number of reasons. Any office worker with any soul left, who happens to discover Whatever, would have trouble reporting for work the next day. The sexually unfulfilled (incels?) and the physiologically deficient might feel that they have finally found a wr Whatever is a truly entertaining and dangerous novel. Entertaining because Houellebecq must have had a lot of fun while writing it, thinking about all the people he would piss off. I certainly had a lot of fun reading it. It is dangerous for a number of reasons. Any office worker with any soul left, who happens to discover Whatever, would have trouble reporting for work the next day. The sexually unfulfilled (incels?) and the physiologically deficient might feel that they have finally found a writer to voice their grievances. Houellebecq's hostility towards different aspects of the emerging capitalism fueled global mono culture including interracial relationships, shopping malls etc is sure to inspire a lot of hazardous people. Whatever is about a French computer programmer who cannot get laid because he is ugly. The lack of success in the sexual realm fills him with misery and hatred and jealousy at the world at large. In his free time, he writes weird stories involving conversations between animals and also muses on the consequences of economic and sexual liberalism. He is sent on a work related project with an equally ugly colleague even as his mental health deteriorates. At a discotheque, when he and his colleague are relegated to the sidelines of the dance-floor, a murderous sexual rage possesses him and he hatches a diabolical plan that involves murder of an interracial couple. The book is virtually plot less. It is like a beautiful one sided debate where the main character gets to espouse his commentary on modern French society. The central theme of the novel as espoused by the computer programmer is that sexual liberalization has left many ugly and physically deficient people without a sexual partner. In this liberalized system, some people (the beautiful and the strong) have a fulfilling sex life while for others (the ugly and the physically wretched), the lack of sexual fulfillment only compounds the horror of modern life. This system is not too different from economic liberalization where the industrious gather all the wealth while the incompetent end up as paupers. I think Houellebecq has unearthed a difficult modern problem whose effects are pervasive across the world. Some years ago, when I worked in Mumbai, a colleague of mine who was good at his job, average looking and shy in his interactions with women, lamented about the increasing number of live in relationships in India. He said he was not "getting anyone" while some of his friends had moved in with their girlfriends. My colleague was victorious in the newly liberalized Indian economy where a man who is good at his job could amass wealth. But he was a failure in the increasingly liberalized sexual system where you had to be handsome and charming. India is still a conservative country where men seek out females through arranged marriage (usually arranged by parents). But the number of "love marriages" and "live in relationships" are on the rise and this is making a lot of people very uncomfortable. Once upon a time, the ugliest of Indian males was guaranteed a mate through arranged marriage. But increasingly (as Indian society gets more liberalized and women gain more rights) this old guarantee of a partner is not sacrosanct anymore. I expect a few Indian imitators of Houellebecq in the years to come or maybe even worse, imitators of the characters in this novel. Julian Barnes said that Houellebecq was a big game hunter. He is right. Whatever is a Tsar Bomba that might fall into the hands of the wrong people. But some of us out here are really bored with our lives. And we need dangerous novels like Whatever to "tickle out cement souls back into life"as Bukowski said.

  10. 4 out of 5

    The Final Song ❀

    This was the longest greentext that I had read ever

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    THE GREAT COMPLETIST CHALLENGE: In which I revisit older authors and attempt to read every book they ever wrote Currently in the challenge: Margaret Atwood | Christopher Buckley | Daphne Du Maurier | Michel Houellebecq | John Irving | Kazuo Ishiguro | Shirley Jackson | Bernard Malamud | VS Naipaul | Tim Powers | Philip Roth | John Updike | Kurt Vonnegut I've already read and enjoyed professional misanthrope Michel Houellebecq's two newest novels, The Possibility of an Island and Submission, so tha THE GREAT COMPLETIST CHALLENGE: In which I revisit older authors and attempt to read every book they ever wrote Currently in the challenge: Margaret Atwood | Christopher Buckley | Daphne Du Maurier | Michel Houellebecq | John Irving | Kazuo Ishiguro | Shirley Jackson | Bernard Malamud | VS Naipaul | Tim Powers | Philip Roth | John Updike | Kurt Vonnegut I've already read and enjoyed professional misanthrope Michel Houellebecq's two newest novels, The Possibility of an Island and Submission, so that made it only natural to add him to my Completist Challenge after recently being reminded of him (specifically, because of a recent article in the New York Times, about how the sexual politics Houellebecq foretold in his early novels seems to be eerily coming true in an age of meninists, GamerGate and incels), especially enticing here because Houellebecq has only published six novels over the course of his career, making it easier than normal to get him checked off my list and done for good. Like many of the authors in this challenge, Houellebecq seems to have started out rather inauspiciously with his first book, 1994's Whatever (first published in English in 1998), a much simpler and more inconsequential story than the absurdist sagas he would become known for later in his career. It's the tale of one of those sour, unpleasant autistic sociopaths in your company's IT department who you always dread dealing with, the one time every three months he's forced to crawl out from his basement hole and help you ("Did you try turning it off and back on again? God!!!!!"); narrated in his voice, it's ostensibly a ho-hum record of his aggressively uninteresting life, but through throwaway comments it slyly paints a portrait of white male entitlement, obsessive hatred of women and sex, and barely contained homicidal rage that lies at the heart of our seemingly milquetoast narrator. It's easy to see with this book why so many academic intellectuals were attracted to Houellebecq when he first started publishing (this book was often compared to Camus' The Stranger when it first came out); because here in his first novel Houellebecq still has a kind of emotional distance from his narrator and and doesn't declare a judgement of his actions, making it a more traditional kind of character portrait that lets readers assume that the author means for us to have some disdain for this deeply flawed protagonist. It wasn't until later novels that Houellebecq made it explicit that he agrees 100 percent with the opinions of his repulsive narrators, and sees these kinds of 4chan trolls and school shooters as the true unsung heroes of our dirty, corrupted society, about as close to pure nihilism as a contemporary artist gets who is still managing to crank out commercial bestsellers. (Well, and filmmaker Michael Haneke as well.) That makes Houellebecq troubling as a popular author, because he's essentially not only holding up a dark mirror to society, but also gleefully declaring that the sexist, racist, murderous monster you see in the reflection is a much better human being than you, because at least they're pure in their convictions and actually follow through on their hatred, while the most you can manage is to post some snotty tweets about how much Donald Trump sucks. If you were really a person worth admiring, Houellebecq's increasingly outrageous novels claim, you would've already stormed the White House with your assault rifle; and the fact that you haven't means your opinion is worthless about his tales of the people who have. This message gets clearer and clearer with each subsequent book Houellebecq has written; but it's all right there in Whatever as well, just sublimated enough that many at the time mistakenly thought he was a good little liberal who was criticizing such behavior. Spoiler alert: HE WASN'T. Next up: The joy train keeps chugging along with 1998's The Elementary Particles, about a man who has devoted his life to pioneering work in cloning, specifically so that the human race will never again have to deal with sex or love in order to keep propagating the species. Good times!

  12. 4 out of 5

    catechism

    Our long national nightmare is over. I really, really hated this book. I wish I could give it negative eleventy stars. The narrator was both despicable and unspeakably boring (here is an incomplete list of boring things about him: his misogyny, his racism, his treatises on animals, his old breakup, his job, and his depression). I gather the book was supposed to be shocking and edgy -- like how hipster racism is "edgy"! -- and that his philosophical musings were meant to be deep and provoke serio Our long national nightmare is over. I really, really hated this book. I wish I could give it negative eleventy stars. The narrator was both despicable and unspeakably boring (here is an incomplete list of boring things about him: his misogyny, his racism, his treatises on animals, his old breakup, his job, and his depression). I gather the book was supposed to be shocking and edgy -- like how hipster racism is "edgy"! -- and that his philosophical musings were meant to be deep and provoke serious thought on post-modern alienation and the emptiness of life. If only his philosophical musings were not just the puerile ravings of a child, it might have worked! But it's the same old song -- dude is lonely because he is an asshole and blames women for his lack of touch and Life Is Empty and Women Are Cunts. Grow up. I switched to the French version pretty early on, figuring that at least the exercise of reading in French would keep me going (and also the English translation is terrible). I was right, and now I know way more words for "bitch" in French than I did before, so I guess that's something. I ended up switching back to English when I could no longer tell if I more wanted to kill myself or the narrator.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This was my first Houellebecq, and also one of his first works (1994). From what I had read about him already, I think the chance is not big that he is ever going to become one of my favorite writers: cynicism, nihilism, and pessimism in general are wasted on me. Reading "the extension of the domain of fight" (this is a literal translation of the French title; the English title summarized it in a wonderful way in just one word, "whatever") very quickly called in memories of Sartre's "La Nausée" This was my first Houellebecq, and also one of his first works (1994). From what I had read about him already, I think the chance is not big that he is ever going to become one of my favorite writers: cynicism, nihilism, and pessimism in general are wasted on me. Reading "the extension of the domain of fight" (this is a literal translation of the French title; the English title summarized it in a wonderful way in just one word, "whatever") very quickly called in memories of Sartre's "La Nausée" and also a little bit of Camus ' "L'Etranger". It's as if Houellebecq has replaced these nihilistic masterpieces in our time (well, to the nineties to be exact). With at least 1 big difference: the ironic undertone. In addition, with Houellebecq you get a whole social analysis on top of it, on neoliberalism and the commercialization of our society. Interesting, but very one-sided, because the focus remains on the futility and hopelessness of life. In the end the author surprised me positively) with the poetic description of an intense nature experience. I am looking forward to Houellebecq’s next work, but I was not really impressed by this one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    I'd heard of neither Houellebecq nor this book before a friend sent it to me last week but completely understand the controversy surrounding it and him now. What begins as a seemingly absurdist diary turns into a nihilistic death wish. I would like to give this only a single star but the powerful insights into the emptiness of modern man hit like a bullet. Houellebecq is not nourishment for the soul in any way but the emptiness he depicts won't leave you because of some bits of fine writing foun I'd heard of neither Houellebecq nor this book before a friend sent it to me last week but completely understand the controversy surrounding it and him now. What begins as a seemingly absurdist diary turns into a nihilistic death wish. I would like to give this only a single star but the powerful insights into the emptiness of modern man hit like a bullet. Houellebecq is not nourishment for the soul in any way but the emptiness he depicts won't leave you because of some bits of fine writing found among the flotsam. "On Sunday morning I went out for a while in the neighborhood; I bought some raisin bread. The day was warm but a little sad, as Sundays often are in Paris, especially when one doesn't believe in God." "A weekend without drama; I sleep a lot. It astonishes me that I'm only thirty; I feel much older."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Samir Rawas Sarayji

    Drivel. Middle-aged, misogynistic, opinionated protagonist who rants about Parisian life and the opposite sex. Pointless, tactless, and tasteless. Typical Houellebecq. Women should be young, perky, and wearing skirts, preferably ones that barely cover their ass. Much literature has been written about love, passion or conquest of the older man with the younger woman, but it is literature because of the art of writing and subtlety of observation and emotion... not because of ranting or objectified Drivel. Middle-aged, misogynistic, opinionated protagonist who rants about Parisian life and the opposite sex. Pointless, tactless, and tasteless. Typical Houellebecq. Women should be young, perky, and wearing skirts, preferably ones that barely cover their ass. Much literature has been written about love, passion or conquest of the older man with the younger woman, but it is literature because of the art of writing and subtlety of observation and emotion... not because of ranting or objectified beings whose only merit is their looks. I know this is a character in a book but the few books of his I have read, these young and perky women are often described as the ideal standard. Give me a break Houellebecq. Stop watching porn and brushed up images of made up women in magazines. And maybe, just maybe, try to have a real conversation with a woman and listen to her (I would suggest you wear a blindfold so you don’t think of the shape of her mouth and fantasize or deride as she speaks). To begin with Tisserand appeared to be interested in a twenty-something brunette, a secretary most like. I was highly inclined to approve of his choice. On the one hand the girl was no great beauty, and would doubtless be a pushover; her breasts, though good-sized, were already a bit slack, and her buttocks appeared flaccid; in a few years, one felt, all this would sag completely. On the other hand her somewhat audacious get-up unambiguously underlined her intention to find a sexual partner: her thin taffeta dress twirled with every movement, revealing a suspenders belt and minuscule g-string in black lace which left her buttocks completely naked. To be sure, her serious, even slightly obstinate face seemed to indicate a prudent character; here was a girl who must surely carry condoms in her bag. From a literature perspective, I would have been fine with either the first half or second half of this passage by the protagonist. The first, albeit crude and demeaning, would just emphasize the narrow-mindedness of the protagonist and his interest on the external alone. The second would have emphasized a horny protagonist with keen observation on the sexual, and one that views women as a means to his pleasure. Now neither is nice but if that is the character then that is the character. But the combination together is overkill: to insult, to objectify and then to still hint at sexual interest and project it by saying she probably carries condoms... what? Because a young woman at a party dresses up to feel sexy and enjoy herself means she is there to fuck a middle-aged, ranting protagonist? Typical Houellebecq protagonist... pathetic.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jana

    French kissing? After reading several books from contemporary literature, I came to conclusion that French discovered depression and pretentiousness. All protagonists have similar problems (loneliness, (a)sexuality, social awkwardness, money issues, psychological therapy and sedatives...) and they want us to believe that they represent the majority of us, and the author addresses the reader, me, to understand him, the protagonist. I don't understand him nor I find his life philosophy so intriguin French kissing? After reading several books from contemporary literature, I came to conclusion that French discovered depression and pretentiousness. All protagonists have similar problems (loneliness, (a)sexuality, social awkwardness, money issues, psychological therapy and sedatives...) and they want us to believe that they represent the majority of us, and the author addresses the reader, me, to understand him, the protagonist. I don't understand him nor I find his life philosophy so intriguing. He didn't discover hot water. Plus, all over again, monologue edition, lack of any concrete conversation and implementation of other people. Inner thoughts and dubiousness. I need French book with happy, or if this is too much, with satisfied characters that actually talk to each other.

  17. 5 out of 5

    RB

    "Whatever" is often compared to, "American Psycho", which is aggravating. Ellis was not the first, by a long stretch, to deliver that style of narrator. You could look back a few years to James Ellroy's, "Killer on the Road", or way back to Jim Thompson's, "The Killer Inside" - in the crime genre, alone. But Houellebecq's short, bitter, and lastingly unsettling novel is not a crime novel. The chances the story provides to head in such directions it opts out of in place of chance or the improbabl "Whatever" is often compared to, "American Psycho", which is aggravating. Ellis was not the first, by a long stretch, to deliver that style of narrator. You could look back a few years to James Ellroy's, "Killer on the Road", or way back to Jim Thompson's, "The Killer Inside" - in the crime genre, alone. But Houellebecq's short, bitter, and lastingly unsettling novel is not a crime novel. The chances the story provides to head in such directions it opts out of in place of chance or the improbable side of life. There's an obvious pessimistic philosophy, influenced by Schopenhauer, running through every book of Houellebecq's, from this, his debut, to his most recent, "Serotonin", but it's arguably expressed the clearest and has the most impact in, "Whatever". That's not proclaiming this as his strongest work, which for me is still, "Submission", but this is a rather amusingly bleak work filled with vivid and bitter descriptions simply told, odd side journeys into the narrator's passion for writing short stories featuring talking animals that are a confused mix of nonsensical philosophical musings, the most hopeless and sad characters I've encountered in literature for some time, and some tensely-written failed attempts at unthinkable urges. It's a lot like other works while also being its own thing, and without refusing to bend to the easier chances to dive into genre fiction.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Scott

    Whatever is the first book I read from Michel Houellebecq. Starting from the premise that the new world of information technology (IT) creates a new, de-humanizing territory for the modern person, Whatever focuses on the (lack of) adventures of a30-year old, IT systems specialist. The book excels in the description of attending one's own life, or what the hero perceives as the life of IT-ers: selling a boring system to bored customers, giving boring lectures to a bored audience in a boring city, Whatever is the first book I read from Michel Houellebecq. Starting from the premise that the new world of information technology (IT) creates a new, de-humanizing territory for the modern person, Whatever focuses on the (lack of) adventures of a30-year old, IT systems specialist. The book excels in the description of attending one's own life, or what the hero perceives as the life of IT-ers: selling a boring system to bored customers, giving boring lectures to a bored audience in a boring city, participating in boring after-hour events with always-missed goals, etc. The writing is cynical and trite; in the short philosophical passages that are inter-leaved with the story the main character always loses his train of thought... The thin, somewhat bored sexual tension is perhaps the most animated part of the book. The partner in crime of our anti-hero is Raphael, the misfit IT-er who can never get a girl and even fails in stabbing one in a misplaced jealousy crisis. Here is an example of one of the "juicier" parts of the story---when the hero rejects the possibility of responding to unmade advances from a client: I was feeling up to making the necessary gestures. But I kept my mouth shut; and anyway I don't think she'd have accepted; or else I'd have first had to put my arm around her waist, say she was beautiful, brush her lips in a tender kiss. There was no way out, for sure. I briefly excused myself and went to throw up in the toilets. The book also includes vague thoughts on the market of sexual encounters, where the liberation of both males and females has lead to a matchmaking disaster---how can one find a match when one's always moving and eternally unattractive? But this topic is another left with little clarification in this book. Overall, not my cup of tea. I've heard comparisons to the A Confederacy of Dunces; perhaps Whatever is Confederacy's trashier, dumber, lost sister of a lost aunt.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    If you don't like depressing books, you had better steer clear of Michel Houllebecq. His is a particularly bleak and loveless world. Whatever (1994) was his first novel: It is about a thirty-something computer software engineer who sees, instead of the possibility of love, the possibility of suicide or even murder. He travels to Rouen and La Roche-sur-Yon with a co-worker to make presentations to various regional governmental agriculture offices on their software. The co-worker, Tisserand, is yo If you don't like depressing books, you had better steer clear of Michel Houllebecq. His is a particularly bleak and loveless world. Whatever (1994) was his first novel: It is about a thirty-something computer software engineer who sees, instead of the possibility of love, the possibility of suicide or even murder. He travels to Rouen and La Roche-sur-Yon with a co-worker to make presentations to various regional governmental agriculture offices on their software. The co-worker, Tisserand, is younger than the narrator (who is unnamed), but particularly desperate to hook up with young women. Alas, they find him to be ugly and shy away from him. After one frustrating evening, he dies in an auto accident in the fog, running into a truck. From this point on, our narrator's life becomes ever more bleak. He checks into a psychiatric hospital for a while, where he finds all the patients are essentially love-deprived. In the end, we find him going to a remote mountainous part of France. The quotation at the head of the chapter is illuminating: "As paradoxical as it may seem, there is a road to travel and it must be travelled, yet there is no traveller. Acts are accomplished, yet there is no actor." -- Sattipathana-Sutta, XLII, 16.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    If office life got you down, well, don't read this book. It's bleak, pessimistic, and pretty standard for the single white male disillusionment with corporate toil tale that seemed to be everywhere in the 1990s. It takes place in France, while most of this type of fiction was probably American or British in origin, this one really takes the cake for being a downer without many redeeming qualities. Oh, and the translator is so British it's distracting.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leo Robertson

    Excellent comfy dollop of French misanthropy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMG-4... Excellent comfy dollop of French misanthropy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMG-4...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    Not my favorite Michel Houellebecq, but still an interesting read. Here you get the detached main character as he works in the computer world - all of this is much better in his later work. I wouldn't read this first - read the others then read this one if you need it for your collection. But by no means is it an essential piece of fiction by this talented writer.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Austin Murphy

    this guy hates life too much to give a shit about.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Magdelanye

    "The progressive effacement of human relationships is not without certain problems for the novel....we're a long way from Wuthering Heights....The novel form is not conceived for depicting indifference or nothingness; a flatter, more terse and dreary discourse would need to be invented." p40 MH's world may be tense and dreary to contemplate, but it is not flat.Whatever is a most bumpy ride, offering fleeting but powerfully disturbing glimpses of the darker side of our social world. In this, his "The progressive effacement of human relationships is not without certain problems for the novel....we're a long way from Wuthering Heights....The novel form is not conceived for depicting indifference or nothingness; a flatter, more terse and dreary discourse would need to be invented." p40 MH's world may be tense and dreary to contemplate, but it is not flat.Whatever is a most bumpy ride, offering fleeting but powerfully disturbing glimpses of the darker side of our social world. In this, his first published novel. MH lays the kernels of disquiet that provide the groundwork of his later works. Big question: if I had read this first, before I became a devotee, would I have been able to rise above some of the truly icky parts of this saucy narrative? Maybe not. But MH is subtle, and it is disquieting to realize that from the beginning that the protagonist so empathized with turns out to be a big creep. Did I say I laughed a lot, to my chagrin, and I loved this book, until a certain point after which I handled it as I would a stinging insect.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jos

    It's all already there. Houellebecq's canon of modern society criticism is laid out programmatically to be detailed upon in his later works. The program is contained in the title, all titles except for the one of the English translation, that is. "The extension of the battle zone", the individual has no retreat left in the modern world. The work place, relations, the purpose of life. Every area of life has turned into a battle. No system of arranged marriages within a small circle of village lif It's all already there. Houellebecq's canon of modern society criticism is laid out programmatically to be detailed upon in his later works. The program is contained in the title, all titles except for the one of the English translation, that is. "The extension of the battle zone", the individual has no retreat left in the modern world. The work place, relations, the purpose of life. Every area of life has turned into a battle. No system of arranged marriages within a small circle of village life, no inherited security of profession. The many want to enter relations with the same few desirable partners, the many want the same few desirable jobs. Failure of the majority is predestined - unhappiness, depression, aimlessness, mediocrity the obligatory consequence. Facets are taken up in his later novels. Platform focuses on sexual relationships, Submission elaborates on the fear of the alien, Islam. The hints are contained in this small book, even the stabs at Islam. Houellebecq still has to develop his claims as well as his style. He's weakest when he tries the hardest to be literary, when he resorts to the realm of the fable. Otherwise, a strong, angry and pessimistic statement on modern society that I can relate to.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Writerful Books

    Houellbecq's novella reminds me of Albert Camus's 1942 novel L'Etranger, in the way he portrays the anti-hero's existential angst and world-weary cynicism. A lot of Houellebecq's philosophical meanderings were spot on while much of it seemed like pointless abstraction to the point of becoming mental masturbation. Whatever (originally published in French as Extension of the Domain of the Struggle) was written in the 1990s and I get the impression that the author hadn't quite decided whether his p Houellbecq's novella reminds me of Albert Camus's 1942 novel L'Etranger, in the way he portrays the anti-hero's existential angst and world-weary cynicism. A lot of Houellebecq's philosophical meanderings were spot on while much of it seemed like pointless abstraction to the point of becoming mental masturbation. Whatever (originally published in French as Extension of the Domain of the Struggle) was written in the 1990s and I get the impression that the author hadn't quite decided whether his philosophical take on life was libertarian or reactionary. I would venture that to say that his particular brand of philosophy would be considered alt-right by today's standards. Not sure I'd go as far as calling this book a cult classic..

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rositsa Zlatilova

    Extension du domaine de la lutte is a book about a 30-year old IT specialist who has such a sad and empty life that even the emptiest words on earth can’t truly or accurately describe. It is one of those books where everything is so bad and depressive that you think that it can’t get worse, but it does. Until the very end of these just over 100 pages. It’s a short book – you devour it for a couple of hours but need much longer to comprehend it. Every sentence slaps you with its sadness and compl Extension du domaine de la lutte is a book about a 30-year old IT specialist who has such a sad and empty life that even the emptiest words on earth can’t truly or accurately describe. It is one of those books where everything is so bad and depressive that you think that it can’t get worse, but it does. Until the very end of these just over 100 pages. It’s a short book – you devour it for a couple of hours but need much longer to comprehend it. Every sentence slaps you with its sadness and complication. I will have to re-read this book again and again. And I will. It is too rich, too sad to take it all in one go. At least it was for me.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Al

    Extension... by often controversial French author Michel Houellebecq is a dark tour de force, with almost no elements of hope in it. When I first started reading it, I couldn't continue, maybe because I was in a very opposite state of mind, and this is mainly a book to be felt. But once I got back to the book after a few months, I read it in a blink of an eye. It grips you with the enchanting style and liberating expression of the main character. It pulls you down with the depressive actions of Extension... by often controversial French author Michel Houellebecq is a dark tour de force, with almost no elements of hope in it. When I first started reading it, I couldn't continue, maybe because I was in a very opposite state of mind, and this is mainly a book to be felt. But once I got back to the book after a few months, I read it in a blink of an eye. It grips you with the enchanting style and liberating expression of the main character. It pulls you down with the depressive actions of its characters and the dark representation of society. In retrospective, Extension.. is probably a modern version of Brave New World, where the science fiction of Huxley's society has very much became real. We live in a digital society, where a lot of our connections become remote, handed by technology. People have degrees of liberty or choices, that they can use to be happy, like ordering food from the Minitel phone service. Sex is a method to relieve stress, but also a method to create social classes. Everybody needs to be happy, but happiness has become an economical term where the ability of some people to have better jobs and better sex lives, earns them more points on the happiness scale and more degrees of liberty. It's a perfectly aimed novel, with its picture of this particular side of our society made almost unequivocal. Obviously, it is not how our world really is, because Houellebecq only concentrate on certain negative aspects, but that's done on purpose and it does make the novel much stronger than were it an actual representation of reality. -- Comme le dit l'auteur, nous sommes tous des atomes determinés dans une monde qui s'uniformise. "Les relations humaines deviennent progressivement impossibles, ce qui réduit d'autant la quantité d'anecdotes dont se compose une vie. Et peu à peu le visage de la mort apparaît, dans toute sa splendeur. Le troisième millénaire s'annonce bien." Les paroles de Michel Houellebecq revèlent de la simple beatué!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    A jaded computer programmer is given the task of taking the computer program on the road and introducing it to various offices around France, training the workers in each office how to use the program. He writes short stories featuring talking animals. His travelling companion is a desperate and physically repulsive man. Along the way the narrator tells us how repulsive we all are, how pathetic love is, how sad and disgusting everything is, and blah blah blah. I really like Houellebecq's work us A jaded computer programmer is given the task of taking the computer program on the road and introducing it to various offices around France, training the workers in each office how to use the program. He writes short stories featuring talking animals. His travelling companion is a desperate and physically repulsive man. Along the way the narrator tells us how repulsive we all are, how pathetic love is, how sad and disgusting everything is, and blah blah blah. I really like Houellebecq's work usually, "Platform" is one of the best novels I've read in the last 10 years and his brilliant essay on HP Lovecraft made me go back to the pulpy hack writer and read his stories again. But he fails to entice in this, his first novel. It's not that it's unfailingly negative about the future and of society as it is today because that's what I enjoyed most from his writings and is a key theme in all his work. It's that this bile is the sole reason for this book. At least in previous books there's an attempt at a story, characterisation, etc. Here we just get a man complaining about the modern world. His colleague dies, he falls into a depression, he doesn't care. I get it, Houellebecq's tired of the niceties of existence and is looking for something more vibrant, something to wake him up out of his stupor. It's just a shame he couldn't articulate it into a more interesting book. If this is your first encounter with the angry Frenchie I heartily suggest "Platform" instead of this and you'll see why he's so popular. "Whatever" is a bit dull and a bit dated. Whatever.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Allan MacDonell

    French writers renowned for transgression are nothing new, and Michel Houellegecq’s p.c. (as in pervy creepy) proclivities are neither particularly outrageous nor original. One appeal of his mean and spirited narrators is that a reader can visit and identify with these characters free of the inevitable awkwardness of having to tell them, “Get the fuck out of my house.” Houellegecq’s non-heroes can be experienced as hollow, shallow, vapid, masturbatory—Whatever. The reader has the opportunity to French writers renowned for transgression are nothing new, and Michel Houellegecq’s p.c. (as in pervy creepy) proclivities are neither particularly outrageous nor original. One appeal of his mean and spirited narrators is that a reader can visit and identify with these characters free of the inevitable awkwardness of having to tell them, “Get the fuck out of my house.” Houellegecq’s non-heroes can be experienced as hollow, shallow, vapid, masturbatory—Whatever. The reader has the opportunity to close the book on these unpleasant fellows at any time and pick up something with conventional narrative tension and the hope things will end well for a likable personality, but tossing the book aside is something I’ve never done with a Michel Houellegecq novel. In Whatever, a precociously bitter career drone dissects corporate personalities and alienation as refuge and bottomed-out affect. He concludes on an anticlimactic viewpoint that sees “the external world as a crushing weight,” which is pretty much the thesis set out in the first scene of the book and maintained throughout: If consistency is a virtue, then welcome to life-sucks heaven.

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