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By Michel Houellebecq

An unnamed French narrator sets out for a week in the sun in January of the new millennium, choosing the most unspoilt of the Canary Islands, the volcanic Lanzarote. There he meets up with, and gets off with, non-exclusive German lesbians Pam and Barbara. He tries to involve the morose divorcee Rudi, a police inspector from Luxemburg who works in Brussels, in their activities, but to no avail. Instead Rudi is seduced by the Azraelian cult, which is preparing for humanity to be regenerated by extra-terrestrials. Later, when they are all back in their respective countries, Rudi is implicated in the revelations of paedophile activities among the Azraelians.

‘If it is no match for Corfu or Ibiza in the crazy techno afternoons holiday sector,’ Houellebecq tells us through his narrator, ‘neither is Lanzarote in a position to offer ecotourism’, because of its volcanic composition. The possibility of cultural tourism is also ruled out, since all baroque convents and medieval fortresses were destroyed by the succession of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which took place between 1730 and 1732, an eyewitness account of which closes the book.

Lanzarote probably appeals to Houellebecq because its inhabitants do not ‘correspond to the image of flamboyant Mediterranean peoples so beloved of some Nordic and Batavian tourists.’ The prehistoric peoples of the island never took to the sea, believing that avoiding contact with the outside world was the wisest course of action. So, the history of Lanzarote until recent times has been a history of complete isolation.

That said, Lanzarote is a relatively lightweight concoction in comparison with the author’s much more substantial, and award-winning, Atomised and Platform, and bears all the hallmarks of a contractual-fulfilling short story painfully elongated into a novel. We’ve heard this tone, and the worldview it expresses, done before and done better in the previous books, and here he is merely repeating himself, right down to the way his language of sexual description mimics the terminology pornography employs. Nor is this slim volume cohesive enough a work to be called a novel.

Finally, writing as one who honeymooned on Lanzarote, Houellebecq is rather reductive about the island’s merits. It is remarkable that a book could appear about the place without one reference to Caesar Manrique, the architect and artist whose presence is felt everywhere, and whose campaigning is the reason that, until recently, no building there exceeded five stories in height.

First published in the Irish Independent


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