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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
‘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
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