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Whatever (1994)

by Michel Houellebecq

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,051346,352 (3.42)31
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 computer programmer by day, he is tolerably content, until, that is, he's packed off with a colleague - the unimaginably ugly, sexually-frustrated virgin Raphael Tisserand - to train provincial civil servants in the use of a new computer system... A painfully realistic portrayal of the vanishing freedom of a world governed by science and by the empty rituals of daily life.… (more)
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» See also 31 mentions

English (22)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (2)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
The unnamed narrator of 'Whatever', lives in Paris, has a well paid job working in computers and is currently single. He is lonely, utterly alone, has no friends and no family that we know of. Conversely this means that he is also completely free. Free from financial worries,attachment, guilt or emotions; free to do whatever he wants.

The original French title of the book “Extension of the domain of struggle” and in this novel Houellebecq looks at the struggle for free love in a modern liberal society. A society where sexual experimentation has engendered a society of winners and losers, where self-worth is governed by the numbers of sexual partners you can amass. “Sexuality is a system of social hierarchy”.

When the narrator and Tisserand, an ugly and lacking in charm colleague, are sent by their company to set up a training programme for a new computer system around some provincial towns they also embark on a tour of the local bars and clubs looking for sexual liaisons. Despite having steady jobs, a decent expenses account and good wages in this society they are still losers and abject failures.

“Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization”

In this novel Houellebecq argues that the lack of love in society is a direct outcome of sexual liberalism and someone like Tisserand is powerless to fight it, he will know neither love nor sexual fulfillment. Conversely the elite of the hierarchy of sexuality are little better off, "In reality, the successive sexual experiences accumulated during adolescence undermine and rapidly destroy all possibility of projection of an emotional and romantic sort." Houellebecq argues that in a society where sexual images abound in the media, pop music etc is a society that is built on easy lies and sensual pleasure is a bankrupt one.

For Houellebecq questions of sex, desire are central. In this book religion, love, family and psychiatry are given short shrift. There is very little dialogue and none of the characters' backgrounds are expanded upon meaning that no easy remedies are offered up.This is a struggle we have to overcome ourselves.

There are some interesting ideas within this book but for me at least not a particularly memorable one. Houellebecq points out that there is a very fine line between love and hatred, in particular self-hatred, making this a pretty bleak but thankfully also a relatively quick read. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Oct 19, 2021 |
Very obviously a first novel, even though it shows signs of Houellebecq's later skill in analyzing what truly connects us to our fellow man. There's not nearly so much sex in this one, and the protagonist comes off as more overtly misogynistic than provocative, though to be fair he hates everyone. There's plenty of that classic Houellebecq-ian anomie and detachment from the world, but without a good plot to drive it along or any interesting conundrums to make you think much beyond "Gee, this guy really doesn't like his job", you just kind of watch the protagonist stagger along until the book ends. The non-ending in particular doesn't offer any sort of narrative or intellectual closure - it's all very well to observe that the world is full of dull and stupid people doing boring and meaningless things, but why bother to write about that unless you have something interesting to say about it? There's no science fiction, no art criticism, no social commentary, just chain-smoking, unpleasant bar-hopping, and being bad at your job. Overall this is basically a less funny and thoughtful, more pessimistic and nihilistic Office Space. I'm glad this wasn't my first Houellebecq. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Wish I'd read this 10-15 years ago. Probably would have done if it wasn't for that god-awful cover - like the art for the 3rd single of a terrible BritPop band. Enjoyably angry. ( )
1 vote arewenotben | Jul 31, 2020 |
L'étranger in new, awful shape. Great, sick humour. ( )
  kaikai1 | May 10, 2020 |
bleak. worth reading ( )
  Alex_JN | Dec 16, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Der Nihilismus in Gestalt eines Software-Entwicklers
 

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michel Houellebecqprimary authorall editionscalculated
Haan, Martin deAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haan, Martin deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hammond, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keynäs, VilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Friday evening I was invited to a party at a colleague from work's house.
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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 computer programmer by day, he is tolerably content, until, that is, he's packed off with a colleague - the unimaginably ugly, sexually-frustrated virgin Raphael Tisserand - to train provincial civil servants in the use of a new computer system... 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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