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Platform (2001)

by Michel Houellebecq

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,641474,455 (3.65)54
Michel is a civil-servant at the Ministry of Culture. When his father is murdered and he comes into some money, Michel takes leave of absence to go on a package tour to Thailand. Infuriated by the shallow hypocrisy and mediocrity of his fellow travellers, only the awkward Valerie attracts his attention. Too bashful to pursue her, Michel prefers the uncomplicated pleasures of Thai massage parlours and sex with local women. But, back in Paris, he calls Valerie and they plunge into a passionate affair which strays far beyond the bounds of his previous 'vanilla' existence, into S&M, partner-swapping and sex in public. Michel quits his job, and tries to help Valerie and her boss, Jean-Yves, in their ailing travel business, by offering travel packages based on sex tourism in the third world. When their project comes to fruition and the three return to Thailand, Michel discovers that sex is neither the most consuming nor the most dangerous of human passions...… (more)
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» See also 54 mentions

English (29)  French (9)  Italian (2)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  Galician (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
What a vile book. It is amazing how certain elements of the critical establishment can be fooled so easily sometimes. This book is cheap, not very well written pornography. Full of inaccuracies as well as misogyny, islamophobia and casual racism. Two-dimensional and almost universally unpalatable characters - none of whom it is possible to care about and sex-tourism as the solution to 21st century disillusion and anomie - spare me!!! ( )
  Estragon1958 | May 23, 2022 |
Gosh, there is so much to this book, including some really quite profound observations. There is also quite a bit of gratutious sex, as if Houllebecq kept getting horny by all his intensity and had to mix it up a bit. Fair enough. Unfortunately, a review on the back of my copy of the book had the ENDING REVEALED in it. Really very, very annoying, as the end is quite a turnaround from the rest of the book, though the clues are there. So what is this book about? Good question...the decline of the Western world and its values, the sex trade, inertia, traditional females roles (is that really what men want?), plus much more. Really got me thinking. ( )
  lucylove73 | Aug 31, 2021 |
Platform is a great example of Houellebecq as a deeply moral writer. That might sound like an odd description for someone who writes such lovingly detailed scenes of group sex, but it's true - amid his signature brand of overwhelming cynicism for the modern world, Platform contains some of his most moving passages on the search for happiness and fulfillment. If you read Houellebecq's novels out of order, like me, then it's striking how consistent yet unrepetititive he is. In each novel he has the same preoccupations, the same characters, and the same writing style, and though you would think that only a very few hands could be drawn from such a small deck, the strength of those themes, his ability to place his essentially identical author-surrogates in fresh situations, and his great sense of irony and black comedy make his books worth shuffling through. The sex doesn't hurt, either.

Platform ticks off the whole list of Houellechecqs:
- the emotionally deadened yet materially comfortable protagonist with terrible family relations is here named Michel
- the stunning and sexually adventurous babe who for no real reason falls in love with the protagonist is named Valérie
- the hollowness of contemporary artistic pursuits is explored via the modern art scene
- the remunerative yet trivial occupation of the protagonist is government coordinator for art events
- the protagonist's family is either absent or quickly killed off, here on the first page
- the spiritual poverty of the West's affluence is explored via the tourism industry
- the continual allure of religion despite its self-evident absurdity focuses here on Islam
- the salubrious effects of large quantities of graphic sex is praised, here via... large quantities of graphic sex

Excellent. Moral lessons are much more pleasant when accompanied by the good stuff, and I personally would much rather read musings on the true nature of life when they're wrapped in smut. For example, is it possible to be truly happy? Michel has some thoughts:

"Later, thinking about this happy time with Valérie, a time of which, paradoxically, I have so few memories, I would say that man is clearly not intended to be happy. To truly arrive at the practical possibility of happiness, man would have to transform himself - transform himself physically. What does God compare to? In the first place, obviously, a woman's pussy; but also perhaps the vapors of a Turkish bath. Something, at any rate, in which spiritual bliss becomes possible, because the body is sated with contentment, with pleasure, and all anxiety is abolished. I now know for certain that the spirit is not born, that it needs to be brought forth, and that this birth is difficult, something of which we now have only a dangerously vague idea. When I brought Valérie to orgasm, when I felt her body quiver under mine, I sometimes had the impression - fleeting but irresistible - of attaining a new level of consciousness, where every evil had been abolished. In those moments of suspension, almost of motionlessness, when the pleasure in her body mounted, I felt like a god on whom depended tranquility and storms. It was the first, most perfect, most indisputable sort of joy."

Well there you have it, the mystery of happiness has been solved! If only all joy was so easy to attain. That cheerful mix of philosophy and erotomania leads Michel down some interesting roads over the course of the book. Platform is essentially the anti-Nymphomaniac, in that Houellebecq seems to really believe in love as a redemptive force, and while sex for him does not necessarily bear any relationship to anything other than getting off, I was somewhat surprised to see passages on how much more honorable and moral prostitution is than BDSM, as I didn't imagine Houellebecq would have any issues with it: "There's the sexuality of those who love each other, and the sexuality of those who don't love each other. When there's no longer any possibility of identifying with the other, the only thing left is suffering - and cruelty." The relationship Michel has with Valérie, the deepest of his life, is seen as something he didn't truly earn, which I think is how most people feel about a truly great relationship.

I always appreciate his takes on the morality of sexuality, particularly commodification. After all, what exactly is so wrong about that? If economic logic should be applied to every sphere of life, then is there some sort of moral line to be drawn around paid dating sites, strip clubs, prostitution, sex tourism, and so forth, and exactly where should it be? Houellebecq has a great disdain for the effects of Anglo-Saxon culture on France, but he recognizes that France seems not have produced a superior model. The tourism industry is the example here, an expression of global capitalism that seems to mostly cater to desperate Europeans who find their own culture intolerable. While plenty of sex is available at home, a similar amount of love, or at least of satisfying relationships, is not, as the relentless workings of the sexual marketplace transforms seduction from a means to an end into an end in itself. If you can't beat them, why not join them? Michel discusses with Valérie whether women will take to sex tourism with the same gusto as men:

"What will probably happen is that women will become much more like men. For the moment, they're still very hung up on romance; whereas at heart, men don't give a shit about romance, they just want to fuck. Seduction only appeals to a few guys who haven't got particularly exciting jobs and nothing else of interest in their lives. As women attach more importance to their professional lives and personal projects, they'll find it easier to pay for sex too; and they'll turn to sex tourism. It's possible for women to adapt to male values; they sometimes find it difficult, but they can do it; history has proved it."

There's obviously a lot of gender stereotyping in there, but I think that and his dig at pickup artists obscure his broader point about how people respond to the instability of modern life. After all, sex tourism was how Michel and Valérie met in the first place - it took traveling to a foreign country to connect with each other. Why not provide a platform (if you will) for people to escape each other and the unpleasurable world they've created in search of their own paths to joy? There's no single point at which the search for love changes all at once; instead it's step by step, until eventually life looks unrecognizable. This being a Houellebecq novel, it's not like he could give his protagonist a happy ending, and so the scene in which he loses Valérie, right after they've seemingly figured everything out, functions as a sort of structural joke, showing that in the end all of the theorizing in the world about love, sex, happiness, and life can be meaningless in the face of real events. Not exactly uplifting, but hey - the kind of happy endings Houellebecq likes are not the literary kind.

I wouldn't declare that this is his finest work - The Map and The Territory has probably my favorite plot, and I think the criticism of Islam that got him in so much trouble here was done better in Submission - but again, it's remarkable how consistently entertaining and thoughtful his trademark gloom can be. The scene where Michel, in desperate need of something to read and with only airport best-sellers available, points out how masturbatory John Grisham's prose style is by literally masturbating onto a copy of The Firm is literary criticism at its most genius. ( )
1 vote aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
A very strange novel not least because it must be one of the only novels that takes place in the context of the tourism industry. However, lest that conjure up images of dad helping the kids build sandcastles while mum kicks back on the sunlounger with a pina colada, Houellebecq’s characters are passionate about sex tourism.

The self-absorbed Michel (how’d he come up with that name?) narrates his experiences of a relationship with a travel company executive he meets while servicing his needs at the expense of the women of Thailand. This relationship takes on two dimensions, the first of which is sex. The second, much less important dimension, is his role in providing ideas for her career move creating a series of resorts catering specifically to sex tourism.

Naturally, their growing sex empire draws the attention of those who are less tolerant of these things and the novel ends with an Islamic terrorist attack on a resort which kind of puts future punters off.

The novel was criticised for being critical of Islam, but critics were forced to admit that however distasteful the novel was, it was at least prescient; it was publised just weeks before 9/11 and a year before the Bali bombings which may well have been inspired by it.

However, if you’re not a fan of writers obsessed with sex, this isn’t for you. Houellebecq seems to get off on writing about it if not doing it. It’s amazing what inner insecurities are revealed by our obsessions. Reading up on his life on the web it was no surprise to discover that he felt his mother “lost interest in his existence.” The obsession with sex is typical of a man with a wound caused by lack of early connections to a female caregiver.

Sadly, writers like Houellebecq can’t seem to make any connections between the sex they create and the plots they are also constructing. Maybe that’s because the sex they’re actually having has no connection to the life they’re living. Everything is humdrum and then suddenly everyone’s clothes are off and the sex is the best anyone’s ever experienced since we were given legs to walk on. Yeah, right. My only hope is that Houellebecq is a satirist on par with Sterne or Swift.

I haven’t got the faintest idea what Houellebecq wanted the world to do with this novel. Maybe he just wanted to keep the legacy of J. G. Ballard alive. If so, lamentably, he succeeded to some degree. I’m supposed to also read his Elementary Particles off the 1001 books list. Not sure I’ll bother. ( )
  arukiyomi | Oct 11, 2020 |
De l'exotisme et du pittoresque, du sexe et du fanatisme, tels sont les ingrédients (torrides et subversifs) de "Plateforme", dernier roman de Michel Houellebecq, probablement l'écrivain le plus controversé aujourd'hui…

Michel est un employé du ministère de la Culture. Il vit simplement, au rythme des feuilletons et des jeux télé, des peep shows au sortir du boulot, des purées Mousseline dégluties machinalement…

A la mort de son père, "un vieux con", il se décide pour un séjour en Thaïlande, en "voyage organisé" sous la houlette de Nouvelles Frontières.

Accompagné par une galerie de "beaufs", armés du "Guide du routard", le narrateur visite les sites touristiques de Bangkok à Surat Thani, de Patong Beach à Koh Phi Phi, se livre au plaisir du body massage, quête les bars à putes, se lie avec Valérie. Ensemble, ils voyageront à Cuba, multipliant les expériences sexuelles, ici et là…

Cinglant et drôle, rarement avare d'outrances (sexuelles), observateur attentif, sarcastique même, l'écrivain ne rate rien de son époque.

Fable sur les voyages organisés, regard sur le tourisme sexuel et le "déploiement du monde", "Plateforme" aurait pu n'être qu'un exercice littéraire de dénonciation mise en scène par une sensibilité exacerbée.

Si le texte connaît des longueurs, c'est aussi le juste portrait d'une société moyenne, peuplée d'individus moyens, parfois médiocres, avec ses paradis et ses enfers. --Céline Darne
  Haijavivi | Jun 7, 2019 |
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added by Shortride | editThe Observer, Jason Cowley (Aug 10, 2002)
 

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Houellebecq, Michelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Haan, Martin deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keynäs, VilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wynne, FrankTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Plus sa vie est infame, plus l'homme y tient; elle est alors une protestation, une vengeance de tous les instants. Honore de Balzac

(The more contemptible his life, the more a man clings to it; it thus becomes a protest, a retribution for every moment.)
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Father died last year.
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In fact, nothing disturbs me.
Not having anything around to read is dangerous: you have to content yourself with life itself, and that can lead you to take risks.
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Michel is a civil-servant at the Ministry of Culture. When his father is murdered and he comes into some money, Michel takes leave of absence to go on a package tour to Thailand. Infuriated by the shallow hypocrisy and mediocrity of his fellow travellers, only the awkward Valerie attracts his attention. Too bashful to pursue her, Michel prefers the uncomplicated pleasures of Thai massage parlours and sex with local women. But, back in Paris, he calls Valerie and they plunge into a passionate affair which strays far beyond the bounds of his previous 'vanilla' existence, into S&M, partner-swapping and sex in public. Michel quits his job, and tries to help Valerie and her boss, Jean-Yves, in their ailing travel business, by offering travel packages based on sex tourism in the third world. When their project comes to fruition and the three return to Thailand, Michel discovers that sex is neither the most consuming nor the most dangerous of human passions...

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