Controversy over Houllebecq's vision of France's future

Controversy over Houllebecq's vision of France's future

The ever-controversial French author Michel Houellebecq has denied that his new novel, about a future in which a Muslim party beats the far-right Front National in a presidential election, is a “provocation”.

Soumission (Submission), published in France tomorrow (7th January) by Flammarion, is set in 2022, when there is a run-off in the French presidential election between the leader of the far-right National Front Marine Le Pen and Ben Abbès, the fictional leader of the fictional Muslim Fraternity, who is supported by the mainstream political parties to prevent Le Pen from taking power.

According to the Independent, Soumission has cased a “national scandal”. Laurent Joffrin, editor of French national newspaper Libération, said that the book “will mark the date in history when the ideas of the far-right made a grand return to serious French literature”.

In an interview with the Paris Review, Houellebecq said Soumission presented a “realistic” vision of the future.

“I accelerate history, but no, I can’t say that the book is a provocation—if that means saying things I consider fundamentally untrue just to get on people’s nerves,” he said. “I condense an evolution that is, in my opinion, realistic.”

He said that Le Pen struck him as a “a realistic candidate for 2022—even for 2017” for French president, but that it was unrealistic to believe a Muslim party could be poised to take power within the next seven years because it would require Muslims “to succeed in getting along with each other”. Soumission has a “scary side”, said Houellebecq, but “it’s not clear what we are meant to be afraid of, nativists or Muslims”.

Houellebecq has previously described Islam as "stupid" and "dangerous" in an interview with L’Express in 2001, when his novel about sex tourism in Thailand, Plateform, was published. He was also tried and acquitted in 2002 for racism, with judges saying he was exercising his right to criticise religions.
Pirated versions of Soumission were available on several internet sites in late December after non-final proofs of the book were sent to journalists and the book itself was distributed to bookshops and reporters on 22nd December.

Soumission is set to be published in the UK by Cornerstone imprint William Heinemann in autumn this year, acquired by publisher Jason Arthur from Flammarion. Arthur said: "Submission is a breathtakingly audacious and daring novel that’s certain to turn heads and raise eyebrows. It is a work of grand ambition, razor-sharp wit, and real heart - a tour-de-force from one of Europe’s most exciting writers. Submission is a novel we are proud and pleased to be publishing here at William Heinemann."