What you need to know about “Annihilate”, the new novel by Michel Houellebecq

Annihilate, the eighth novel by Michel Houellebecq, is the event of the literary re-entry in January 2022. What does it look like? What is he talking about ? Why will Houellebecq not say anything to the press? After devouring the 736 pages of this eagerly awaited new novel, here’s what we can say about it, a week before it hits the shelves of your bookstores.

“Annihilate” benefits from a cleverly orchestrated release

Published by Flammarion editions, Michel Houellebecq’s new book will be published on January 7, 2021, two years later Serotonin and six years to the day after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. We don’t know if it’s a coincidence. Chance in any case does not seem to have presided over the release of this eighth novel by the author of Elementary particles. An outing prepared with the greatest care, in an atmosphere of mystery, but above all according to a cleverly orchestrated marketing plan. Printed in 300,000 copies, its title, Annihilate, was only revealed on December 17, when the novel was sent to 600 journalists, with an injunction not to reveal anything “out of respect for the readers”, before December 30.

“Annihilate” is published in a deluxe edition, “German style”, in a format that involves the golden ratio

The publisher Flammarion announced in early November an edition “in German”, hardcover, hardcover, “with a slice and a colored bookmark”. On the pristine white cover, the title, blood red, displays the names of the author and publisher in black, without capital letters, in a slightly satin intaglio print. Very elegant.

Michel Houellebecq himself, so to speak, ensured the artistic direction, the particular care that he put there testifying to his love of the book, “his favorite object” he confided during a conference in the Richelieu amphitheater at the Sorbonne on Thursday, December 2, hosted by Agathe Novak-Lechevalier, who directed the Herne notebook devoted to the writer. “It’s a shape that suits me”, said Michel Houellebecq speaking of this edition, a form that corresponds to “my reader tastes”, a book “pleasant to hold in the hands”, and whose dimensions, he specifies, are “in a ratio of 1.6, that is, the golden ratio”. Flammarion released three novels in this format on November 10: Extension of the field of struggle, Elementary Particles and Platform.

Michel Houellebecq will not do an interview to accompany the release of “Anéantir”

The publishing house has announced that it will not grant any press interviews. This refusal, explained Michel Houellebecq at the Sorbonne, is in part the consequence of his “staircase spirit”, which makes it “think about important and interesting things after the interview is over”. “It’s a misfortune in life, and I don’t think it’s curable”, he added. In these conditions, “it is better not to grant an interview”, said the writer regretfully. “The second reason is that people often do not have the level”, he added, causing the hilarity of his audience, mainly made up of academics.

“Annihilate” has already experienced its little controversy 15 days before its release

Fifteen days before the release, the novel leaked onto the internet. Two sites offered a quality copy and a third site made it possible to obtain, still illegally, an Epub version (intended for e-readers), filled with computer slag, noted AFP. A phenomenon that had already marked the release of Submission, in 2015. Contacted by AFP, the publisher Flammarion replied that its legal and IT departments were doing their best to obtain the closure of the internet pages in question.

“To annihilate” is a novel of very slight anticipation

Once these controversies have been evacuated, we can finally open the book. Annihilate begins as a political thriller mixed with very close anticipation (we are in 2027). It tells the story of Paul Raison, an almost fifty-year-old enarque in the service of Bruno Juge, Minister of the Economy and Finance (inspired by Bruno Le Maire?) Launched in a presidential campaign in support of the majority candidate, a former TV host.

At the same time, Paul is following very closely a case of attacks perpetrated in the four corners of the planet, relayed on social networks, and whose agents of the DGSI are struggling to decipher the occult messages … The world that describes Annihilate is ours, and it’s not doing very well, to say the least.

The main subject of “Annihilate” is love, but also death

Michel Houellebecq describes a world in decline, without hope, dark and melancholy, in which nevertheless arise moments of grace, of happiness, appearing here and there, in the trajectories of his characters, most often in the guise of love. Paul is married, without children, and has not shared anything for years with his wife named Prudence, except their apartment in the 12th arrondissement, where they each have their room and their shelf in the refrigerator. Yet it is in this relationship reduced to nothing, in this land so long left fallow, that love will germinate again. This reborn love, which is accompanied by the resurrection of a happy sexuality, but also combined with death, is the beating heart of this new novel by Michel Houellebecq.

The writer declines this theme of love in secondary variations through the stories of the other characters in the novel: Paul’s father, a widower, a former Secret Service agent, is again in a relationship with Madeleine, a woman from a background. more modest, whose unconditional love has accompanied his life as a cripple since his stroke. Aurélien, Paul’s younger brother, discovers love with the nurse of Malian origin, responsible for taking care of their father, after having experienced marital hell with his wife, a psychopathic journalist. Or Cécile, her older sister, married for many years to Hervé, an unemployed notary close to far-right Catholic circles, and whom she calls “Mamour”.

“Annihilate” also speaks of green vegetables, the end of life, and many other things.

Michel Houellebecq, if he focuses his pen on love, does not exclude any subject from his literary project, making literature, as he himself says, a tool for “restoring human experience”. Greens, End of Life, Hinduism, Politics, God, Religion, Satanism, Hospital, Islam, Suicide, Blowjob, New Tech, Conan Doyle, The Europe, migrants, unemployment, the Black Blocks, the Trente Glorieuses, essential oils, peri-urban areas, the family, dental care, numerology, euthanasia, the end of capitalism, nuclear power, the aging of the ‘Europe, Pascal …

It is difficult to make an inventory as the range of subjects covered and the patterns drawn is so rich. The novelist thus continues his painting of contemporary society, in the manner of the novelists of the 19th century, linking all the elements that make up our daily life with the great universal themes of metaphysics, making this new book a humanist novel (with a pessimistic tendency).

To feed his story, Michel Houellebecq documented himself. He also encourages his colleagues to do the same in the thanks at the end of the book: “Basically, writers should not hesitate to learn more; many people love their profession, and are happy to explain it to laymen.”

“Annihilate”, against all odds, is an “alternative to the world”

We find the writing of observations, fluid and nonchalant, of Michel Houellebecq. A writing that gives off a melancholy music while very often triggering laughter. The construction of the novel, like a slow movement of the camera, makes us circulate from the surface of things, from the chain of events, to the interiority of the characters, essentially that of Paul.

His dreams punctuate the story. We first try to decipher them, then we end up letting ourselves be lulled by these suspended moments, by these soothing parentheses, which often occur without warning. These moments are as precious as the books, which appear in Annihilate like saviors, indispensable when it is absolutely necessary to extricate oneself from an unbearable reality. “As long as we have a book, it’s okay, we’re saved”, considers the writer.

Michel Houellebecq has a sense of observation, attention to detail, and a form of rigor, honesty in writing, without frills, without “showing off”, which, beyond anything he can tell , touches us, and enlightens us, offering us as he himself says, speaking of the function of books, “an alternative to the world”.

“To annihilate”, by Michel Houellebecq (Flammarion, 736 pages, € 26)

Extract :

“They had definitely screwed up, he said to himself,” they had collectively screwed up somewhere. What was the point of installing 5G if we could no longer perform the essential actions, those which allow the human species to reproduce, those which also make it possible, sometimes, to be happy. He became again capable of thinking, his thinking even took an almost philosophical turn, he observed with disgust. Unless it all comes down to biology, or nothing of the everything, he was going to go back to bed eventually, that was the only thing to do, his thinking was doomed to run empty, he felt like a can of beer crushed under the feet of a British hooligan, or like an abandoned steak in the vegetable compartment of a low-end refrigerator, well, he didn’t feel very well. ” (“Annihilate”, page 367)