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Having made his name with an exhibition of photographs of Michelin roadmaps – beautiful works that won praise from every corner of the art world – Jed Martin is now emerging from a ten-year hiatus. And he has had some good news. It has nothing to do with his broken boiler, the approach of another lamentably awkward annual Christmas dinner with his father or the memory of h Having made his name with an exhibition of photographs of Michelin roadmaps – beautiful works that won praise from every corner of the art world – Jed Martin is now emerging from a ten-year hiatus. And he has had some good news. It has nothing to do with his broken boiler, the approach of another lamentably awkward annual Christmas dinner with his father or the memory of his doomed love affair with the beautiful Olga. It is that, for his new exhibition, he has secured the involvement of none other than the French novelist Michel Houellebecq. The great writer has agreed to write the text for the exhibition guide, for which he will be paid handsomely and also have his portrait painted by Jed. The exhibition – ‘Professions’, a series of portraits of ordinary and extraordinary people at work – brings Jed new levels of global fame. Yet his boiler is still broken, his ailing father flirts with oblivion and, worse still, he is contacted by one Inspector Jasselin, who requests his assistance in solving an unspeakable, atrocious and gruesome crime. Art, money, fathers, sons, death, love and the transformation of France into a tourist paradise come together to create a daringly playful and original twist on the contemporary novel from a modern master of the form.


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Having made his name with an exhibition of photographs of Michelin roadmaps – beautiful works that won praise from every corner of the art world – Jed Martin is now emerging from a ten-year hiatus. And he has had some good news. It has nothing to do with his broken boiler, the approach of another lamentably awkward annual Christmas dinner with his father or the memory of h Having made his name with an exhibition of photographs of Michelin roadmaps – beautiful works that won praise from every corner of the art world – Jed Martin is now emerging from a ten-year hiatus. And he has had some good news. It has nothing to do with his broken boiler, the approach of another lamentably awkward annual Christmas dinner with his father or the memory of his doomed love affair with the beautiful Olga. It is that, for his new exhibition, he has secured the involvement of none other than the French novelist Michel Houellebecq. The great writer has agreed to write the text for the exhibition guide, for which he will be paid handsomely and also have his portrait painted by Jed. The exhibition – ‘Professions’, a series of portraits of ordinary and extraordinary people at work – brings Jed new levels of global fame. Yet his boiler is still broken, his ailing father flirts with oblivion and, worse still, he is contacted by one Inspector Jasselin, who requests his assistance in solving an unspeakable, atrocious and gruesome crime. Art, money, fathers, sons, death, love and the transformation of France into a tourist paradise come together to create a daringly playful and original twist on the contemporary novel from a modern master of the form.

30 review for The Map and the Territory

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”I’ve known several guys in my life who wanted to become artists, and were supported by their parents; not one of them managed to break through. It’s curious, you might think that the need to express yourself, to leave a trace in the world, is a powerful force, yet in general that’s not enough. What works best, what pushes people most violently to surpass themselves, is still the pure and simple need for money.” Jeff Koons has made himself an objet d’art. Whenever Jed Martin calls his agent an ”I’ve known several guys in my life who wanted to become artists, and were supported by their parents; not one of them managed to break through. It’s curious, you might think that the need to express yourself, to leave a trace in the world, is a powerful force, yet in general that’s not enough. What works best, what pushes people most violently to surpass themselves, is still the pure and simple need for money.” Jeff Koons has made himself an objet d’art. Whenever Jed Martin calls his agent and says I’m ready to do an art show he is also saying I’m done with this particular artistic endeavor. He, for instance, took provocative photos of man made objects. Once he showed the world his creations: J'ai fini. He painted a series depicting bakers, waiters, and other blue collar workers as well as a few portraits of the rich and powerful. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates discussing the future was of more interest to his rich patrons than say a postal worker. He knew he was finished, well thought he was, with this series when he gutted a painting he was doing on Jeff Koons, stomped, sliced and turned it into a mangled pile of pulp. He knows, despite this last failure or because of it, that it is time to share the series with the world. His publicist convinced Jed that he needed to contact the writer Michel Houellebecq and see if he could be persuaded to write a piece for the show catalog. It is good timing because the writer has suffered some financial setbacks so he is motivated by ”the pure and simple need for money.” The French press has had a field day accusing him of all kinds of dastardly deeds and the bad press has certainly limited his opportunities to fix his pecuniary problems. The always controversial Houellebecq. There are readers who have an issue with a writer inserting himself so blatantly into the story. Of course writers put themselves in books, sometimes thinly disguised behind another name, and will deny if asked that a character bears any resemblance to themselves. This is a novel and now with the emergence of Houellebecq in the text it has become some kind of hybrid. What is to be believed? Is this a fictional version of Houellebecq? The way I look at history even the history of ourselves, within the confines of our own mind, is that our memories are a fusion of fiction and nonfiction. To label something one or the other is never completely correct. History is full of accounts that are sometimes a 60-40 split between truth and fantasy, but there are readers who want to feel the reassurance of a NONFICTION label. As if fiction doesn’t reveal as much truth as nonfiction. So let’s just say that Houellebecq, becoming a character in his own novel, does not bother me. When Jed meets Houellebecq he realizes he is not finished with the series. The final painting has to be this writer. Houellebecq is extremely hard on himself. His portrayal of himself is rather scathing. Note to self: if I prostitute myself as a character in a novel please remember to emphasis my better qualities. Bret Easton Ellis writes himself into the novel Lunar Park which I really enjoyed, though there are reviewers who fervently disagree with me. Martin Amis also inserts himself in the hilarious book Money. Three winners for this reader. Michel Houellebecq not at the top of his game as a fictional real person. Jed’s relationships with women are similar to his relationship with his art, only he isn’t always finished with them before they are finished with him. He has a prostitute girlfriend named Genevieve. ”As much as men are often jealous, and sometimes horribly jealous, of their girlfriends’ former lovers, and as much as they ask themselves anxiously for years, and sometimes until death, it it hadn’t been better with the other one, if the other hadn’t given them more pleasure, they easily accept, without the slightest effort, everything their women might have done in the past as a prostitute. As soon as it is concluded by a financial transaction, any sexual activity is excused, rendered inoffensive, and in some way sanctified by the ancient curse of work.” She leaves him for a client to have babies and settle down. Now he can be jealous? Houellebecq, the one outside the book I’m not sure about the one inside the book, usually brings up the themes of the politics of sex and the way lust motivates all aspects of our lives, but in this book he just settles for some philosophical musings on prostitutes. This is the third book I’ve read by him and this is the book he spends the least amount of time talking about sex… libido slowing down Mr. Houellebecq? So what makes a good artist Jed Martin? ...to be an artist, in his view, was above all to be someone, submissive. Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages, that you would be led, for want of a better word and in the absence of any religious belief, to describe as intuitions, messages which nonetheless commanded you in an imperious and categorical manner, without leaving the slightest possibility of escape--except by losing any notion of integrity and self-respect. These messages could involve destroying a work, or even an entire body of work, to set off in a radically new direction or even occasionally no direction at all…. Jed begins a new series of photographing beautiful old Michelin maps and he meets a woman named Olga, a Russian beauty, who develops a real liking for the little Frenchman. She is desired by many and has her pick of the men of Paris, but she chooses Jed. He brings the maps alive making the art fresh with his own view of them. Her career with Michelin soon takes her back to Russia, but Jed stays in Paris afraid to get too far from the source of all inspiration...Paris. It was interesting to me that a man who is so willing to abandon success to move on to something new is unwilling to take the chance of finding new inspiration in such a vibrant country as Russia. The love of Paris and of France that Houellebecq feels, despite his travails with the French press, is readily apparent throughout this novel. Towards the later third of the novel Houellebecq introduces a new character, a police inspector named Jasselin. There is this momentary bobble in the universe where this reader wondered if the writer was overstepping himself, but there is a gruesome Jackson Pollockesque murder that needs to be investigated. Jasselin has interesting thoughts about children (he is not a fan), silicon breasts (he is a fan), and Bichon Dogs (a breed perfectly designed to please man). This novel drew me in even during those fleeting moments when I had doubts that there would be a definable plot or any resolutions. Houellebecq doesn’t shy away from those taboo subjects that we rarely discuss. Jed’s mom committed suicide and his father refuses to talk about it. The question that haunts the survivors is always why, but at the same time Jed’s not sure he wants to know why. When his father comes down with a terminal illness and is considering going to Norway for an assisted suicide, Jed has to deal with the consequences of such a decision. Suicide is a virus that once it infects a family it seems to have recurrences and ramifications for many, many generations. I always think of the five suicides in the Hemingway family that have haunted that line for four generations. Houellebecq by Thomas Saliot Houellebecq, as always, forced me to think about issues, some that have touched my life and some that may turn up like a bad penny in the future. His descriptions of the art world and the life of a famous writer gave me true insights into what it means to be creative, to be successful, and the struggles that everyone has to be happy. Although I have enjoyed his more sexually explicit novels it was nice to see him write a novel where his philosophies of life are not overshadowed by the controversy of what some would consider an obsession with deviant behavior. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE DAVID CRONENBERG MOVIE MAPS TO THE STARS This is an acidly cynical black comedy, and it's pretty funny, but that really doesn't tell you much about what it's like. I can see that many of the other reviewers are stuck too. Some of them have tried to explain by telling you about the plot, but since there are several rather excellent twists it doesn't seem right to reveal any of them. Luckily, we saw Maps to the Stars last night at the Grütli's Cr WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE DAVID CRONENBERG MOVIE MAPS TO THE STARS This is an acidly cynical black comedy, and it's pretty funny, but that really doesn't tell you much about what it's like. I can see that many of the other reviewers are stuck too. Some of them have tried to explain by telling you about the plot, but since there are several rather excellent twists it doesn't seem right to reveal any of them. Luckily, we saw Maps to the Stars last night at the Grütli's Cronenberg festival, so I have the ideal comparison point: Cronenberg's depiction of the festering confluence of ego, money, sex and vacuous desire for fame that constitutes Hollywood is remarkably similar to Houellebecq's depiction of the world of modern art. As noted, La carte et le territoire is funny. It's as funny as a thirteen year old movie star boasting that he's now been off drugs for 90 days. It's as funny as his foul-mouthed girlfriends calling every woman over twenty a menopausal slut. It's as funny as Julianne Moore literally dancing for joy when her rival's toddler drowns in a swimming pool, so that she can finally get her dream role. And it's as funny as the ending, where Mia Wasikowska batters her to death with her Academy Award statuette and then symbolically marries her own brother before they both take fatal overdoses. Let's face it, this is the world we're living in; at least we might as well laugh at the absurdity of it all. Yes, it's pretty funny. But make sure your sense of humor is in good working order before you start. __________________ [Update, Mar 4 2018] People interested in modern art and its relationship to festering confluences of ego, money, sex and vacuous desire for fame may also enjoy The Square.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    Just finished the last thirty wonderfully flowing and surprising pages that end with the total domination of vegetation and then went back to the first lines namedropping Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst and said aloud "Ha, what a great book." I love how clearly he writes, with such unexpected analysis/insight, exaggerated generalizations asserted as truth (although toned down in this one -- not as much potentially politically incorrect stuff in general, and certainly not as much sex as the last two) Just finished the last thirty wonderfully flowing and surprising pages that end with the total domination of vegetation and then went back to the first lines namedropping Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst and said aloud "Ha, what a great book." I love how clearly he writes, with such unexpected analysis/insight, exaggerated generalizations asserted as truth (although toned down in this one -- not as much potentially politically incorrect stuff in general, and certainly not as much sex as the last two). I purposefully read nothing about this one and only knew it had been called an art world thriller -- which is half right. It's not a thriller and it's not so much about the art world as it is about how the nature of human industry relates to nature itself? A must for fans and a good introduction, too. No one else does genre-mashup semi-misanthropic nihilistic philosophy quite like him, although this did at times seem like a much better rendition of what BEE did in Lunar Park, genre-y literary fiction that includes the author as a character? But this novel doesn't devolve into spare plot mechanics -- the detective crimey bits are just as robust and typically swervy and "written" as the stuff that seems more literary. A nod, I think, to 2666 at one point but transposed to Thailand and the murders dropped from 300 to 30. Overall, an enjoyable weekend plus a few other sittings reading this. A softer, gentler (even accounting for the vicious murder and assorted body parts here and there), more mature Houellebecq, with his sharp, authentically Franch eye now a little more on the end of life (and the end of authentic/traditional French culture), although in this he spends 30 pages early on delivering the main character's backstory, something I don't remember in his other books, wherein characters are presented without much authorial worry re: their histories, like in genre books. Amazingly, there's even a strong-willed successful female character in this one who's not treated as a sex object! This book will probably be treated as news about contemporary (French and international commerce) culture that'll stay news in the future, or maybe like the old photos Jed films it'll fade with exposure to time and the elements, like Balzac before him? Houellebecq suggests that all he wants to do is account for what he sees, aspiring to the patient vision of plants. What he sees he presents as an inexact map of the thickety terrain of life, where all things change, except for ever-changing nature and the criminal motivations of sex and greed. Something like that. Anyway, a real good book. Might go back and read The Elementary Particles.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    Finally a map of Houellebecq territory. When I read 'Plateforme' some years ago, I dismissed Houellebecq as being overrated, and a complete misogynist, but I've changed my mind after reading La Carte et le Territoire. There are some very original plot details, interesting takes on photography and contemporary art, a bit of a meander on architecture, and plenty of information on cartography for those of us who loves maps. But the most amazing thing is that in spite of a main character who is very Finally a map of Houellebecq territory. When I read 'Plateforme' some years ago, I dismissed Houellebecq as being overrated, and a complete misogynist, but I've changed my mind after reading La Carte et le Territoire. There are some very original plot details, interesting takes on photography and contemporary art, a bit of a meander on architecture, and plenty of information on cartography for those of us who loves maps. But the most amazing thing is that in spite of a main character who is very uncharismatic and some other positively eccentric ones, I felt drawn in and compelled to see it through to the end - a bit like the hypnotic feeling I had reading Thomas Bernhard's 'Correction', also featuring an uncharismatic main character and equally bizarre secondary ones..

  5. 4 out of 5

    March

    OK, if I have to be completely blunt, Michel Houellebecq must be the most overrated contemporary author since Amelie Nothomb. The Map and the Territory has received so much publicity in the last year or two, and I’ve come across the title in news and write-ups so many times, not to mention enthusiastic comments I’ve overheard during social occasions, that it seemed like I am missing out on something big out there. Not only did the book seem to be in the cultural news every other day or something OK, if I have to be completely blunt, Michel Houellebecq must be the most overrated contemporary author since Amelie Nothomb. The Map and the Territory has received so much publicity in the last year or two, and I’ve come across the title in news and write-ups so many times, not to mention enthusiastic comments I’ve overheard during social occasions, that it seemed like I am missing out on something big out there. Not only did the book seem to be in the cultural news every other day or something for the last few months, but it has also been awarded the “most prestigious literary prize in France” in 2010, and its author has been hailed as a unique and brilliant voice and an astute commentator on the world of contemporary art and culture. Yet here I am finishing it up (the first whole book that I read entirely on my Kindle, by the way) today and being completely baffled as to what in the world I missed and how come I didn’t feel not a hint of the ubiquitous excitement about this “fresh new voice.” Not that the book is completely horrible, but it is decidedly one of the most mediocre and dull things I’ve read, ever. The idea behind The Map and the Territory itself is perhaps not a bad one – attempting to present a picture, an analysis of current trends, of things here and now and in flux, is challenging, but at the same time, it is, I think, necessary and appreciated by those who nevertheless would like to make sense of the world around them, to hear the opinions of those who are an active part of the current (cultural) landscape and who can offer an insightful analysis, venturing to do it without the benefit of hindsight. When done well, such works can be really thought-provoking and can have a long staying power that enhances the reader’s being in the world and adds to the reader’s critical engagement with it. The problem of The Map and the Territory in being far from this kind of book lies largely, I think, with its execution. To start with, the plot of the book is, how to say, nothing to write home about. The story traces the life of an upper-class photographer-turned-painter in France as he goes from being a dull loner -- with no particular interests other than his art, which he doesn’t seem to be too excited about either -- to a superhighly paid dull loner snapping away pictures of decomposing industrial materials in his mansion (OK, nice point perhaps, not sure), until the time comes when he finally decides to present these mind-blowing images to a thankful and wowed world that’s surely been left in a sort of bereavement during the period since the artist’s going into reclusion. The events take place over a span of 20-30 years, from the 00s to the near future, the 2020s. Three events seem to mark the otherwise completely unexciting life story of Jed Martin (the book’s protagonist). In order not to give out spoilers, I am not going to go further into details on these three, except to say that I am still completely at a loss as to how two of those had any place in the book at all – the Olga bit and the episode with Michel Houellebecq, the character, didn’t bring anything to the story, in my opinion, in addition to being poorly written, hardly believable, and unmoving. I have to admit that, as the story of Michel Houellebecq the character developed, about two-thirds into the book, I really got tricked into believing that this book would finally start being interesting. Ha – at long last some stir, something to make you want to read further. Alas, the excitement lasted only a chapter or two, as M. Houellebecq the writer steered us back onto the tedious track, to completely evaporate by the time of the most anticlimactic and trite denouement. The protagonist himself I found completely unengaging and unlikeable. Not that characters need to be likeable in the cutesy, goody, righteous kind of way, of course not. But even normal or bad personages need to be full-blooded and complex enough for me to take them seriously. Jed Martin was simply stonecold. Things just kept happening to him, it seemed to me, almost as if he had no active part in what was going on, nor did he seem like he wanted to have an active part in anything. OK, Houellebecq the writer makes the point of Jed Martin being sort of excited about his art in the beginning of the book, but nothing like the fervor, pain, tribulations, and ups and downs that so often characterize artistic life ever emerges in the narrative, and so the whole idea of Jed Martin becoming an extraordinarily good artist is completely unconvincing. So, I had to share Jed Martin’s own cluelessness when his work ends up receiving a fantastic and unanimous critical acclaim that makes the protagonist the rather unwitting star of his artistic generation. Another problem – one that seems common in recent books that I’ve (attempted to) read, unfortunately, and that was particularly prominent in this one – is the tendency of the author, almost at any cost, to show his or her knowledge in a particular area, regardless of whether this adds anything to the story, or worse, sounds forced and foreign to the point of the reader almost picturing the author sitting there with an encyclopedia of, say, photography, and copying a passage about the latest model of Canon lenses and inserting it into a piece of dialogue. There are many ways in which an author, if they so wish, can work their research and expertise into a book to show how much they are familiar with the subject matter, but it takes some effort, if not talent, to do it so that it fits with the theme, style, and structure of the story in a seamless, nonintrusive way (see e.g. Michael Chabon). Michel Houellebecq the author’s detours into the history of avant-garde architecture or the mechanics of photography are just sloppily slapped onto any odd place within the story, making these parts cumbersome and quite irksome. Similarly, the author’s preoccupation with brand names and models very often felt to me completely out of place. Why go into the type of Lexus that Jed Martin could have bought and the type of Audi and its specs that he did buy, or the precise type of wine that he ordered in a restaurant, when meanwhile Jed Martin is presented as this clueless, nonchalant type that doesn’t seem to give a damn about these things and seems generally detached from worldly trifles such as these? For a brief moment, I also entertained the idea -- one that comes rather easily to mind -- that the “drawbacks” that I described above are actually perhaps M. Houellebecq’s making his point stronger, driving it further home, as it were. Presenting these shallow and cold characters and dotting the story with minutiae about brands and models and depicting an artistic process that is as bland and unpainstaking as a walk in the park is perhaps an integral part of M. Houellebecq’s comment on the art world today or something. However, that doesn’t seem right either, as it seems too easy an explanation in this particular case. For this idea to work, there must be something, a little something at least, to give a hint of the alternative, a reference point for what is worthy, for what is to be contrasted with, contrapuntal to, the other vision. And I find none of that in The Map and the Territory. I have to say, though, M. Houellebecq’s own phenomenal success with this book does seem like an interesting piece of irony and perhaps a good commentary on current culture/literature that the book itself fails to make.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    His best novel. The themes are basically the same, but Michel Houellebecq tells the tale again with great energy and in a large tongue in cheek manner. On one level it is about the rise of an artist who doesn't really want to participate in the art market. He has nothing against it, but his character is not one where he follows the market place. Yet he's extremely successful in what he does. The other textual parts are Houellebecq's fascination with what people do on their 'free' time - the need His best novel. The themes are basically the same, but Michel Houellebecq tells the tale again with great energy and in a large tongue in cheek manner. On one level it is about the rise of an artist who doesn't really want to participate in the art market. He has nothing against it, but his character is not one where he follows the market place. Yet he's extremely successful in what he does. The other textual parts are Houellebecq's fascination with what people do on their 'free' time - the need to be a tourist in 21st Century life as well as the issue of aging, fame, and the beauty of maps. in many ways, of all his novels, this is the most Situationist like. Houellebecq is for sure not Guy Debord, but he shares his sense of love (disgust?) at looking at culture and what that means to an artist/writer as well There are major plot turns that makes this narrative into a policer. The twists in the plot makes this a really fun read. "The Map and the Territory" is the best novel of the year and its January 3, 2012.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    It was public knowledge that Houellebecq was a loner with strong misanthropic tendencies: it was rare for him even to say a word to his dog. Martin Amis did it before, in Money, when he introduced himself, 'Martin Amis', as a character in the book. Houellebecq replays the conceit here, with a similar pretension and expanded role for himself. In the spirit of literary self-flagellation, in addition to the epitaph offered above, Houellebecq does horrible things to himself. I would be plot-spoiling It was public knowledge that Houellebecq was a loner with strong misanthropic tendencies: it was rare for him even to say a word to his dog. Martin Amis did it before, in Money, when he introduced himself, 'Martin Amis', as a character in the book. Houellebecq replays the conceit here, with a similar pretension and expanded role for himself. In the spirit of literary self-flagellation, in addition to the epitaph offered above, Houellebecq does horrible things to himself. I would be plot-spoiling to say more. Yet the main character is not Houellebecq, but Jed Martin. Like Houellebecq's other protagonists, Jed has an ease with women despite himself and is utterly incapable of sustaining a relationship. The author Houellebecq does sex no better than the character Houellebecq: "I . . ." he croaked. Olga turned around and noticed it was serious: she immediately recognized that blinded, panicked look of a man who can no longer withstand his desire. She made a few steps toward him, enveloped him with her voluptuous body, and kissed him on the lips. 230 pages in, the book becomes a murder mystery. Except it doesn't really. I suppose you could dissect this. Jed first photographed still life, then machine parts. He has an epiphany and begins to photograph Michelin maps. This is how he made his first millions. It's how he meets the delightful Olga. And it's how we have the supposed theme of this book, printed in capital letters in case we missed the significance: THE MAP IS MORE INTERESTING THAN THE TERRITORY. Not exactly ¿Le gusta este jardín, que es suyo? ¡Evite que sus hijos lo destruyan!, now is it? Later he paints people in different professions. He paints Michael Houellebecq: Writer, of course. Houellebecq, the character, doesn't seem to care. I thought, then, that Houellebecq, the author, was giving me, the reader, direction. This book has the same malaise, the same ennui as Houellebecq's earlier books. He just left out the sex this time. Instead, there was a gruesome murder. Which I was okay with. Especially because we learn photographs of the crime scene look like monochromatic Jackson Pollock paintings. But there was also a scene where Jed beats up a woman working in a Swiss Euthanasia clinic. Which really bothered me.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Frankly I read this because my 16-year old did, and considering the negative buzz surrounding Houellebecq I was wondering if she was polluting her beautiful young mind with misogynist pornography. I didn’t expect to like it. So it is with surprise that I bestow 5 stars upon it. A wonderful book - rich, true and wickedly funny. Now that I’ve looked into Houellebecq a bit more I see this was maybe an odd place to start; his other, more misanthropic, sexually-charged books are what got him all the Frankly I read this because my 16-year old did, and considering the negative buzz surrounding Houellebecq I was wondering if she was polluting her beautiful young mind with misogynist pornography. I didn’t expect to like it. So it is with surprise that I bestow 5 stars upon it. A wonderful book - rich, true and wickedly funny. Now that I’ve looked into Houellebecq a bit more I see this was maybe an odd place to start; his other, more misanthropic, sexually-charged books are what got him all the attention. But I don’t care. This was a very satisfying read on many levels, from the narrative style to the prose, from the originality to the humor and insight. The main character is a painter named Jed Martin who is first launched to fame by a series he does using Michelin maps. On a trip with his father, they stop at a rest stop, where he buys a map. “It was then, unfolding the map, while standing by the cellophane-wrapped sandwiches, that he had his second great aesthetic revelation. This map was sublime. Overcome, he began to tremble in front of the food display. Never had he contemplated an object as magnificent, as rich in motion and meaning as this 1/150,000-scale Michelin map of the Creuse and Haute-Vienne. The essence of modernity, of scientific and technical apprehension of the world, was here combined with the essence of animal life. The drawing was complex and beautiful, absolutely clear, using only a small palette of colours. But in each of the hamlets and villages, represented according to their importance, you felt the thrill, the appeal, of human lives, of dozens and hundreds of souls ...” At some point later in the book, someone observes that the map is more interesting than the territory. Contemplating (and rendering) the world is more interesting than being involved in it. I loved the take on the art/literary world. I enjoyed the storyline with the father, the reflections on France and society, on death, on relationships. Houellebecq bringing himself in as a character was a master stroke and revealing. I adored the rant about Picasso. The way he did himself in was marvelous. To me it was a subdued joyride of a book, not in that it was uplifting, but because the author tugged the rip cord and let it rip.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gerald

    I read The Map and the Territory because Jeffrey Eugenides admitted *he* was reading in in a NYT interview. No surprise why masterful American novelists would want to read this. The author, Michel Houellebecq, is unabashedly and unashamedly literary and intellectual. No doubt there's a certain penis envy in admiring a Gallic author who can be so brazen as to simply drop trou and masturbate with his mind for us all to watch. Those of us on this side of the pond who fret about novels and commercial I read The Map and the Territory because Jeffrey Eugenides admitted *he* was reading in in a NYT interview. No surprise why masterful American novelists would want to read this. The author, Michel Houellebecq, is unabashedly and unashamedly literary and intellectual. No doubt there's a certain penis envy in admiring a Gallic author who can be so brazen as to simply drop trou and masturbate with his mind for us all to watch. Those of us on this side of the pond who fret about novels and commercialism and fads and attention spans and the general lack of receptiveness for ideas must surely Jones for the opportunity to wax philosophical and not only get away with it, but also actually sell books. This is the story of a fine artist, Jed Martin, and the rationale behind various distinct phases of his work. It is also a policier, a procedural, about a ghastly murder. One connection is that the murder was performed in such a way as to create a work of art. This second story has very little to do with the main plot line of Jed's work life. Jed's difficult relationship with his aging master-architect father is a subplot upon which many heady sub-themes are hung, including the history and philosophy of architecture, the relationship between habitation and quality of life, and no less than the fate of civilization. In perhaps the most stunning stroke of hubris in a work chockful of it, occurring some way into the narrative so it's a surprise when it comes, Houellebecq makes himself a principal character. By name. The relationship between life and art is open to question - that is, between the physical description of the French novelist, his eccentricities, and his volatile temperament. The Houellebecq in the narrative is not what you'd call a nice person and certainly not someone you'd probably consider taking on as a friend. The author seems proud he's alienating you, else why talk so unashamedly of his body odor and atrocious manners? Martin's life is well-to-do Parisian, but mundane. He has an extended affair, off and on, with a Russian media executive named Olga. She is one hot babe, apparently, but even she can't hold his interest. She did abandon him for a time, and perhaps an infantile ego can never forgive the ultimate insult of abandonment. I'm somewhat mystified. I may reread it someday to study what I missed on first reading, which is probably a lot. This is the first Houellebecq novel I've read, so I am curious to investigate the others. I read in other reviews this isn't the one to start with. Ah, well. Houellebecq would no doubt approve. I do know that, based on his descriptions, I would love to visit a showing of Martin's paintings. I expect they would be photorealistic and iconic - reminiscent, say, of Chinese Communist propaganda posters. One of the delights of the book is imagining what these fictional works would look like. If they have an analog in the real world, I'd love to know it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Lieberman

    Too cold for my taste but terribly clever. I found his worldview coloring my own, which is a mark of how absorbing a writer Houellebecq is. I'm sure I would have enjoyed him more in my younger years, but I've become more generous in my late fifties, tend to cut characters more slack. Too cold for my taste but terribly clever. I found his worldview coloring my own, which is a mark of how absorbing a writer Houellebecq is. I'm sure I would have enjoyed him more in my younger years, but I've become more generous in my late fifties, tend to cut characters more slack.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marc Nash

    Michel Houellebecq is the subversive satirist supreme. The diffident misanthrope who takes humanity to task for our natures, our systems, our ridiculous aspirations and our delusions. But he does so with light touch. He doesn't have to beat us around the head with our own foolish failings. Jed Martin is an artist of some repute. The one layer he misses on his palette is an ability with words, so he seeks after commissioning one Michel Houellebecq to write the programme notes for his upcoming exhi Michel Houellebecq is the subversive satirist supreme. The diffident misanthrope who takes humanity to task for our natures, our systems, our ridiculous aspirations and our delusions. But he does so with light touch. He doesn't have to beat us around the head with our own foolish failings. Jed Martin is an artist of some repute. The one layer he misses on his palette is an ability with words, so he seeks after commissioning one Michel Houellebecq to write the programme notes for his upcoming exhibition (and my how this novel blows Patrick Gayle's lame novel of that name out of the water). As part of the deal, Martin offers to paint a portrait of the author. Both men are non-social beings. The Houellebecq portrayed in the novel has few redeeming features and is always tagged with some aspect of his bibliography, brand Houellebecq. So artist commissions writer, only the novel of course embodies an author writing about the fictional artist. In a few simple words, Houellebecq not only lances the pomposity of the art world, but conjures up marvellous canvases simply through his words: a painting entitled "Damian Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up The Art Market" and something similar with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Satire delivered by steely rapier wit rather than floppy palette brush. Without our literary words constructing a title, such paintings would carry no weight. Arriving at Shannon Airport, Martin passes a gallery of photographed visiting Popes and US Presidents, yet is only struck by an oil painting of the first celebrity visitor JFK and gives the portrait due study. This from an artist who initially made his name through photographic art works. Houellebecq is either satirising or protesting the death of the old, traditional France within this novel (it's hard to prise his intent, seeing as he himself resides in exile in Ireland, having spurned France, or surrendered to being spurned by his native country, though this novel won the Prix Goncourt). Martin's photos were of Michelin maps of the French rural heartlands. Not the scenery, not the landscapes, nor the people living there, just the topographic maps, an ironic juxtaposition. The map evidently is the territory after all. Added to that a meditation on Michelin's guides having necessarily to change and adapt, from appealing to the French (who can no longer afford to holiday in their own country) and the Anglo-Saxons (who tour further afield) and now have to resonate with the tastes of Chinese and Russian tourists. The restaurants experiment with exotic fusion menus, only to discover the Chinese hanker for locally sourced pork sausages and France must contemplate returning to its bucolic traditions and away from multi-cultural influences. Just as the artistic Academies would look askance at the dominance of conceptual art of the likes of Koons and Hirst, so French cookery is under assault; lunch now being a rushed workplace half-hour, without the savouring of wine and fine gustation. Other Academie Francaise cultural touchstones are under threat from foreigners and globalisation in this novel. Not least the imposition of a smoking ban in line with the EU stipulation. Martin further chronicles this slow decay as he switches from photography to oil painting. His painting series is about the dignity of white collar labour. Such labour itself fast being stripped of any useful productive value. The irony strikes him that the captains of industry he paints, are those most rich and best capable of paying the large sums for his paintings. Martin is an artist with a good eye, but no ostensible love of what he does. He is unfazed during unproductive periods. He remains untroubled by doctrinal issues in art, or moral issues. He is even fairly detached from the money his job has rolling in. He is critiquing capitalism, which is why the fictional and real Houellebecq empathise with his work, yet he is happiest walking around the familiar aisles in a chain supermarket. In part 3 of the novel a terrible crime takes place and here Houellebecq offers up a pretty stylish police procedural genre part work. Some may feel the energy built up in the novel percolates away at this point, but I didn't see it as a problem. I rather enjoyed his take on a tired old genre, very French it was too since it puts one in mind of all those French detective movies that they no longer seem to make (another Academie loss in the face of globalisation of culture?). The author seems rather taken with the real-life police advisers who helped him, so much so they are awarded a very rare Houellebecq accolade of an acknowledgement, alongside his flippant doff of the cap to Wikipedia. He has confessed to lifting sections from Wikipedia and transplanting them into the novel, but then Burroughs did something similar with his cut-ups of the works of other authors. The subversion is still nestling within this third section, a brilliant little meditative riff on dogs and pets, turns into a heart-rendering cameo about the lack of posterity and childlessness. Houellebecq has somewhat of a curious style. There are points at which he freezes the action to riff or spout off about something in modern life that clearly grinds his gears. But he does faithfully embed it in the voice of his characters, so that he doesn't come across as ranting. In fact I'd venture that he actually wears his cynicism with rather good grace, as if he can't quite buy into his critique of modern society himself. Then the action is likely to veer straight back into either a profound welter of emotion through the interaction between characters, or its polar opposite, the drab, weary observations made by a totally isolated character out of kilter with everything and everyone in the world. Sometimes the switch between these three states and tones is a bit perplexing, but for me it does all hold together, underscored by a real wit and charm, however begrudging that charm is to both the characters and the reader. Could Houellebecq be cooking a snook at his readers? Quite possibly, but we accede graciously to his art. If you want something to sum up Houellebecq, then it's the early phrase "scarcely insufficient", very much a glass half-empty view of the world, where others might have posited "easily sufficient". I give you Michel Houellebecq, possibly literature's greatest living misanthrope.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rich

    the bitter frenchman solidifies himself as one of my favourite authors. countless vicious soundbites that i had a lot of fun with on twitter -- "They really don't amount to much, anyway, human relationships." "flowers are only sexual organs, brightly coloured vaginas decorating the surface of the world, open to the lubricity of insects" "What can you reply, in general, to human questions?" "it was conceivably true, he thought, that France was a marvelous country - at least from the tourist's point the bitter frenchman solidifies himself as one of my favourite authors. countless vicious soundbites that i had a lot of fun with on twitter -- "They really don't amount to much, anyway, human relationships." "flowers are only sexual organs, brightly coloured vaginas decorating the surface of the world, open to the lubricity of insects" "What can you reply, in general, to human questions?" "it was conceivably true, he thought, that France was a marvelous country - at least from the tourist's point if view" "the tables were taken by law students talking about rave parties or 'junior associates', in other words, those things which interest law students" "It's his place in the productive process, and not his status as a reproducer, that above all defines Western man" "Houellebecq, a man of rational if narrow mind" "It doesn't amount to much, generally speaking, a human life" "Sexuality is a fragile thing: it is difficult to enter, and easy to leave." "He had got a full sense of that mixture of deceit and laziness which sums up the professional behaviour of a lawyer" "Her professional life could thus be summarized as teaching contradictory absurdities to social-climbing cretins" "So that was it, thought Jed; his father now served as food for the Brazilian carp of Zurichsee."

  13. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    Vaguely annoying self-portrait. Inept police procedural. Annoying protagonist. The self-portrait says things such as "Picasso's ugly, and he paints a hideously deformed world because his soul is ugly." Okay then! Manifestly self-parody at times, but also a toxic presentation. All that complaining made, the text is rhetorically strong overall and there's plenty of abstract discussion to keep it lively. Plus, the primary conceit, regarding the borgesian/baudrillardian map, is worthwhile. Vaguely annoying self-portrait. Inept police procedural. Annoying protagonist. The self-portrait says things such as "Picasso's ugly, and he paints a hideously deformed world because his soul is ugly." Okay then! Manifestly self-parody at times, but also a toxic presentation. All that complaining made, the text is rhetorically strong overall and there's plenty of abstract discussion to keep it lively. Plus, the primary conceit, regarding the borgesian/baudrillardian map, is worthwhile.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    The third section initially gave me pause. It could've been mishandled. I had previously read a review in the UK press and was aware of this turn. The novel as with most of Houellebecq's other work is a chilling portrait of our reality, our naked humanity isn't what we'd hope for, it is slithering that way regardless. The third section initially gave me pause. It could've been mishandled. I had previously read a review in the UK press and was aware of this turn. The novel as with most of Houellebecq's other work is a chilling portrait of our reality, our naked humanity isn't what we'd hope for, it is slithering that way regardless.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eugene

    houellebecq is a supreme market analyst, not shying away from drawing a trendline even if it's more based on cynicism than data: They had several happy weeks. It was not, it couldn't be, the exacerbated, feverish happiness of young people, and it was no longer a question for them in the course of a weekend to get plastered or totally shit-faced; it was already -- but they were still young enough to laugh about it -- the preparation for that epicurean, peaceful, refined but unsnobbish happiness houellebecq is a supreme market analyst, not shying away from drawing a trendline even if it's more based on cynicism than data: They had several happy weeks. It was not, it couldn't be, the exacerbated, feverish happiness of young people, and it was no longer a question for them in the course of a weekend to get plastered or totally shit-faced; it was already -- but they were still young enough to laugh about it -- the preparation for that epicurean, peaceful, refined but unsnobbish happiness that Western society offered the representatives of its middle-to-upper classes in middle age. They got used to the theatrical tone adopted by waiters in high-star establishments as they announced the composition of the amuse-bouches and other appetizers; and also that elastic and declamatory way in which they exclaimed: "Excellente continuation, messieurs, dames!" each time they brought the next course (58)." inhaled it and enjoyed it thoroughly, but not his best (though maybe his most consciously ambitious). somehow it didn't appear to have the energy to finish what it started. the houellebecq character seemed to exist simply to settle scores and mock his own public image -- but after those tasks were (often, it's true, hilariously) done there ironically was a painful lack of development for this rather essential, important character. and the (d)evolution into police procedural i think was in some ways, even if premeditated and even if enjoyable, shark jumping. there are even moments of unfortunate false notes and unexpected sentimentality, for example when the main character tries to find meaning in his life so waxes nostalgic for the one that got away: The word passion suddenly crossed Jed's mind, and all of a sudden he found himself ten years previously, during his last weekend with Olga... Night was falling, and the temperature ideally mild. Olga seemed deep in contemplation of her pressed lobster. She had said nothing for at least a minute when she lifted her head, looked him straight in the eyes, and asked: "Do you know why you're attractive to women?... It's very simple: it's because you have an intense look in your eyes. A passionate look... If they can read in the eyes of a man an energy, a passion, then they find him attractive" (106-7). this is houellebecq writing?! and/but there's plenty to love... here's a favorite stand-alone bit. typical in its wry cultural observation, it ends with a quietly explosive insight: The Sushi Warehouse in Roissy 2E offered an exceptional range of Norwegian mineral waters. Jed opted for the Husqvarna, a water from the center of Norway, which sparkled discreetly. It was extremely pure -- although, in reality, no more than the others. All these mineral waters distinguished themselves only by the sparkling, a slightly different texture in the mouth; none of them were salty or ferruginous; the basic point of Norwegian mineral waters seemed to be moderation. Subtle hedonists, these Norwegians, thought Jed as he bought his Husqvarna; it was pleasant, he thought again, that so many different forms of purity could exist (80).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Benoit Lelièvre

    A masterpiece. A gorgeous, reflexive novel and a one-way trip inside the soul of Michel Houellebecq. The Map and the Territory is famous for being the novel Houellebecq wrote himself into as a character, but Houellebecq-the-character is only one facet of it. Houellebecq's reflections are all over this novel, but especially in protagonist Jed Martin, who really is just a younger version of him. Houellebecq gracefully zooms in and out of his characters and portrays the landscapes of France like Jed A masterpiece. A gorgeous, reflexive novel and a one-way trip inside the soul of Michel Houellebecq. The Map and the Territory is famous for being the novel Houellebecq wrote himself into as a character, but Houellebecq-the-character is only one facet of it. Houellebecq's reflections are all over this novel, but especially in protagonist Jed Martin, who really is just a younger version of him. Houellebecq gracefully zooms in and out of his characters and portrays the landscapes of France like Jed Martin paints. Withtraits that are sharp, powerful and evocative, but with color that leave pretentious realism out of the window. You have to already love Houellebecq in order to love that book as much as I did, but the bleak streets, the empty love and the absurdly sharp satire pulled me under for the entire spectacle. A truly remarkable novel.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ramblin' Man

    It is about loneliness. Not like, my wife left me loneliness (though that is in there), the kind of loneliness that you might experience at death or the old cliche "we are all alone on this blue ball". I guess it is a kind of heavy loneliness. Quite subtle writing and nothing too grandiose, however, probably one of the best living authors I have read in awhile, though Cormac McCarthy is soon to be read; (I have not read many living authors because they are garbage and ironic posturing/narcissist It is about loneliness. Not like, my wife left me loneliness (though that is in there), the kind of loneliness that you might experience at death or the old cliche "we are all alone on this blue ball". I guess it is a kind of heavy loneliness. Quite subtle writing and nothing too grandiose, however, probably one of the best living authors I have read in awhile, though Cormac McCarthy is soon to be read; (I have not read many living authors because they are garbage and ironic posturing/narcissistic behavior/perpetual adolescents has ruined everything and created a terrible conformity of writing/writing style that has not changed since the beatniks and the Frankfurt school)... Be patient with this writer, he is not obnoxious. He is able to use cliches (like descriptions of snow) and contextualize them in a way that seems to make the scenes and descriptions not seem so cliche somehow. Something has changed in part three... I don't usual like crime novels, but the way he infuses some of the earlier writing makes it a bit more tolerable and an expansion on existential exploration and loneliness, along with a life of mediocrity. Pretty good. Good quotes: "Many years later, when he had become famous-- extremely famous, truth be told-- Jed would be asked numerous times what it meant, in his eyes to be an artist. He would find nothing very interesting or original to say, except one thing, which he would consequently repeat in each interview: to be an artist, in his view, was above all to be someone submissive. Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages, that you would be led, for want of a better word and in the absence of any religious belief, to describe as intuitions, messages which nonetheless commanded you in an imperious and categorical manner, without leaving the slightest possibility of escape-- except by losing any notion of integrity and self-respect. These messages could involve destroying a work, or even an entire body of work, to set off in a radically new direction, or even occasionally no direction at all, without having any project at all, or the slightest hope of continuing." "...life sometimes offers you a chance, he thought, but when you are too cowardly or too indecisive to seize it life takes the cards away; there is a moment for doing things and entering a possible happiness, and this moment lasts a few days, sometimes a few weeks or even a few months, but it happens once and one time only, and if you want to return to it later it's quite simply impossible. There's no more place for enthusiasm, belief, and faith, and there remains just gentle resignation, a sad and reciprocal pity, the useless but correct sensation that something could have happened, that you just simply showed yourself unworthy of this gift you had been offered..." "You can always take notes, Houellebecq had told him when talking about his career as a novelist, and try to string together sentences; but to launch yourself into the writing of a novel you have to wait for all of that to become compact and irrefutable. You have to wait for the appearance of an authentic core of necessity. You never decide to write a novel, he had added; a book, according to him, was like a block of concrete that had decided to set, and the author's freedom to act was limited to the fact of being there, and of waiting in frightening inaction for the process to start by itself. At that moment Jed understood that inaction, more than ever, would cause him anguish, and the image of Olga floated back into his memory like the ghost of a thwarted happiness; if he'd been able to, he would've prayed for her. He got back in his car, started off slowly toward the tollbooths, and took out his credit card to pay." ”I’ve known several guys in my life who wanted to become artists, and were supported by their parents; not one of them managed to break through. It’s curious, you might think that the need to express yourself, to leave a trace in the world, is a powerful force, yet in general that’s not enough. What works best, what pushes people most violently to surpass themselves, is still the pure and simple need for money.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Philipp

    Modernity was perhaps an error, thought Jed for the first time in his life. A purely rhetorical question, that: modernity had ended in Western Europe some time ago. I once tried to get into Houellebecq [1], about 10 years ago, and back then his work seems to have been all about "here's a bunch of sex with various people, oh no this is not fulfilling, we need monogamy, the end". Not that interesting. The Map and the Territory does not fit into that pattern at all, luckily, it's more a character st Modernity was perhaps an error, thought Jed for the first time in his life. A purely rhetorical question, that: modernity had ended in Western Europe some time ago. I once tried to get into Houellebecq [1], about 10 years ago, and back then his work seems to have been all about "here's a bunch of sex with various people, oh no this is not fulfilling, we need monogamy, the end". Not that interesting. The Map and the Territory does not fit into that pattern at all, luckily, it's more a character study of two sides of the same coin - Jed and Houellebecq himself, the first some kind of visual artist who drifts from photography to painting, the second a relatively successful French author who's hired to write the introduction to a catalogue of Jeb's work. Both are extremely similar with little attachment to "real life", both have little to no friends and are drifting through life. Both have found success without really aiming for it, both just made their art when it came to them with no real aim to become rich or famous with it. There was truly in Beigbeder, as far as he could remember, something which could arouse affection and, already, the existence of “loved ones”; something that did not exist in Houellebecq, nor in him [Jeb]: a sort of familiarity with life. France, culturally and linguistically, always feels like a bit of a self-imposed island to me - the French language is imposed by law, and French modern books focus more on navel-gazing than anything else. Houellebecq nearly walks into that trap with a bit of too much satire of the French cultural elite, but he luckily looks past France. There's a bit of history of computing and Silicon Valley, Tocqueville, especially surprising to find a reference to Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone. He even touches Jack Womack's territory in a few lines where some areas in Paris have devolved into some kind of proto-anarchy; but where Womack then walks into these territories and stages laser axe-fights between hopped up 13-year olds and Robocops, Houellebecq just mentions them and immediately leaves to focus on his characters. I guess this is something H. revisits in Soumission, I yet have to read that one. The last third is a bit unnecessary, (view spoiler)[there's a brutal murder, and sadly the murder is resolved, and even more sadly the murderer is dead so that no (psychological) explanation is necessary (hide spoiler)] , almost as if H. didn't know how to end the story. [1] That first "e" has no earthly business in a last name

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Frankly, misogyny would be a step up. Misogyny I could tolerate if there were even the merest HINT of literary merit. But in fact, Michel Houellebecq would publish his grocery list if he thought you would buy it, read it, and give it a literary prize. And h's got your number, because apparently you will. This book comes close; he's thrown in some ingredeients that he thinks you and the Goncourt jury will swallow -- the author is a character!, it's writing about art!, he tells us every time he bu Frankly, misogyny would be a step up. Misogyny I could tolerate if there were even the merest HINT of literary merit. But in fact, Michel Houellebecq would publish his grocery list if he thought you would buy it, read it, and give it a literary prize. And h's got your number, because apparently you will. This book comes close; he's thrown in some ingredeients that he thinks you and the Goncourt jury will swallow -- the author is a character!, it's writing about art!, he tells us every time he buys groceries, so I guess it's about consumerism!. Except that, if I take some eggs and flour and throw them at your car, that's not the same as me baking you a cake. That's not so much me cooking you a tasty treat as it is me being a huge asshat. This book is a hastily slopped-together pile of disorganized dreck, pretentious, self-involved, and disdainful of the reader. Michel Houellebecq is the beaujolais nouveau of the literary world. Everybody knows what it is, but if you try to actually drink some, it sucks because it turns out that a marketing gimmick does not make for good wine. French wine has better to offer, as does French contemporary fiction. Please, in the name of all that is holy, stop the madness and leave these books in the two for one bargain bin where they belong.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leif Quinlan

    5-star review - recognizing and including the caveat that "The Map and the Territory" was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it and that on its own merit alone, it's not a perfect or classic novel. I'd been in a small rut, feeling like everything I picked up or wanted to was some variation of the same novel with a different slant and a different author. "Map" is the antidote to typical characters/plots/stories/styles: It is philosophical, meandering, generous, and thought-provoking whil 5-star review - recognizing and including the caveat that "The Map and the Territory" was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it and that on its own merit alone, it's not a perfect or classic novel. I'd been in a small rut, feeling like everything I picked up or wanted to was some variation of the same novel with a different slant and a different author. "Map" is the antidote to typical characters/plots/stories/styles: It is philosophical, meandering, generous, and thought-provoking while also containing enough of a plot to keep the reader interested throughout the first 2 sections (even if it's nothing more than "artist's personal and professional life during the most important parts of it"). The 3rd section is a big shift but it isn't particularly bonkers or silly. Instead, it's just another phase of life and I enjoyed the introduction of the Inspector as a new character. There was so much to this book that I don't have it all distilled within my own mind yet but as a philosophical treatise on art, the role of work and inspiration in a life, romantic and familial relationships, and hard turns that life takes I know already that it was exceptional

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michal Mironov

    I've been perceiving this book through phases. Phase 1: amused and a bit confused whether the author writes seriously, or whether he's having lots of fun at the expense of the readers. Phase 2: still amused but a little pissed at the author: such a bastard! If he put all sarcasm and irony into italics, the whole fucking book would have been in italics! Phase 3: Admiration and enviousness: how come he could write something so multilayered and ambiguous in such a light and accessible language? Hou I've been perceiving this book through phases. Phase 1: amused and a bit confused whether the author writes seriously, or whether he's having lots of fun at the expense of the readers. Phase 2: still amused but a little pissed at the author: such a bastard! If he put all sarcasm and irony into italics, the whole fucking book would have been in italics! Phase 3: Admiration and enviousness: how come he could write something so multilayered and ambiguous in such a light and accessible language? Houellebecq is either an exceptionally intelligent author of kitsch or an extremely ironic prophet. I do not care, I’m giving 5 stars in both cases.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    My attraction to The Map and the Territory was more rooted in seeing what Houellebecq was maybe creating in form and theme than it was in the narrative. I had the sense (or, perhaps more accurately, the hope) that he was fashioning something genius. Maybe he did. It was unquestionably good from a reader’s perspective and an utterly interesting experience from a fan’s, but, for my money, it’s a far cry from his last, which was a true sigh-inducing, mind-humping masterwork. The novel, with all its My attraction to The Map and the Territory was more rooted in seeing what Houellebecq was maybe creating in form and theme than it was in the narrative. I had the sense (or, perhaps more accurately, the hope) that he was fashioning something genius. Maybe he did. It was unquestionably good from a reader’s perspective and an utterly interesting experience from a fan’s, but, for my money, it’s a far cry from his last, which was a true sigh-inducing, mind-humping masterwork. The novel, with all its self-referential cheekiness couched in subtle stylistics, almost presumes a familiarity with its author. I have a real hard time imagining this being my introduction to him. Still, it’s only my third. But I don’t think that precludes me from observing that there’s not as much ranting and raving in this one. Yet there is still plenty of opining, baked into the dialogue between the protagonist Jed Martin and the author of The Possibility of an Island (two sides of the same coin, really). This back-and-forth is less a conversation between Jed and Michel, but Michel and Michel. I guess that can be said of so many novels, that the dialogue is, when distilled, the author maintaining a conversation with himself. But you really get the sense here that Jed is a very literal alter ego—Houellebecq as visual artist. Little of the intellectual back-and-forth, though, is exalted; in fact it’s almost resigned. There’s a fatalistic, wearied acceptance of their careers as artistic geniuses rather than a joie de vivre. And the narrative and prose are as dispassionate and matter-of-fact as the characters. (It’s a much less libidinous experience than Houelle’s usual fare as well). Jed, the casual misanthrope, and Michel, the avowed misanthrope, establish a shared worldview. That life, no matter the accolades, the actualizations, the bank accounts, is also matter-of-fact. The characters peak perhaps then enter their wispy descents. And it’s all very curious and blasé at once. I’m not saying much about Houellebecq’s impressively nuanced take on the art world and the artistic process that makes up so much of this novel. The author nails it, with authority, at least from this layman’s perspective. But beneath the surface, even fine art and literature, alleged precious and lofty pursuits, are, well, they just are. It’s a meaningful and meaningless affair, both (welcome to Houelle’s world!) There’s a burst of thematic purpose in the novel’s waning pages. We find (through the eyes of an old Jed) a new France, at once evolved and devolved, as the world cycles onwards to whatever. Jed’s alienation becomes a finality, his world overtaken by vegetation, just as all our worlds will one day be. A thought that Houellebecq doesn’t render beautifully, just merely renders. Which says everything, doesn’t it?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    The Prix Goncourt must be France’s version of the Booker Prize because “The Map and The Territory” won it last year and, reading it this year, I get the same feeling of tiredness and boredom when reading a Booker Prize winner. This is strange too because I was looking forward to this one having loved Houellebecq’s previous books “Platform” and “Lanzarote” (granted, “Possibility of an Island” was near unreadable but I was willing to let bygones be bygones) so it was with some measure of disappoin The Prix Goncourt must be France’s version of the Booker Prize because “The Map and The Territory” won it last year and, reading it this year, I get the same feeling of tiredness and boredom when reading a Booker Prize winner. This is strange too because I was looking forward to this one having loved Houellebecq’s previous books “Platform” and “Lanzarote” (granted, “Possibility of an Island” was near unreadable but I was willing to let bygones be bygones) so it was with some measure of disappointment that I finally gave up on this 291 page novel at page 164. The “story” is about an artist who becomes the toast of French art first by taking photos of parts of Michelin maps and then later painting captains of industry and artists. He then decides to have the famous writer Michel Houellebecq (yes he is a character in the book) write the programme for his latest exhibition. And that’s really all that happened in the 164 pages I read and where I gave up. 164 pages and all that’s really gone into is the artist’s dull life, his dull relationships with women, with his aging father, his dull art, and then an encounter with Houellebecq. This was the only part of the book I enjoyed, where the writer got to riff on himself in the book, making him out to be a drunken mess who lived in squalor and was borderline insane. I know a lot of writers put themselves in their work and sometimes this pays off (think Bret Easton Ellis in Lunar Park or Paul Auster in City of Glass) and sometimes it doesn’t (Stephen King in the later Dark Tower books) but it really worked in this book. But really, 164 pages and near nothing happens? Couple this with Houellebecq’s inscrutably dense writing style in this book (heavy on description, always – a car is never a car, he has to describe the make, model, and colour, as well as a note on some banal detail about it) and it’s a very difficult read. I kept hoping for something to happen but when the artist got back with his dull Russian girlfriend and Houellebecq began describing yet another cocktail party in extreme detail (what food they were eating, how it was prepared, what they were drinking, how it was made, what clothes people were wearing, their hairstyles) I realised I had to stop reading for my own sanity. I wanted to like this book but unfortunately the burden of detail in a book lacking in any story and with too much time spent with the dullest of characters (Houellebecq only makes it into a couple of scenes unfortunately) made for a plodding novel with not enough to keep me turning the pages. It’s not nearly as interesting as his previous books and in fact is just plain boring.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    As usual I have mixed feelings about Michel Houellebecq's latest offering. His dispassionate stance about almost everything allows for sweeping generalisations about art and western culture that are challenging and interesting, but he also seems disinterested in bothering to craft a cohesive plot. I'm sure that I miss lots of things in his books, but can't escape the feeling that this is because he just can't be bothered illuminating some things enough. None of this stops me from being intrigued As usual I have mixed feelings about Michel Houellebecq's latest offering. His dispassionate stance about almost everything allows for sweeping generalisations about art and western culture that are challenging and interesting, but he also seems disinterested in bothering to craft a cohesive plot. I'm sure that I miss lots of things in his books, but can't escape the feeling that this is because he just can't be bothered illuminating some things enough. None of this stops me from being intrigued by an author who is so "different", or from looking forward to his next offering. He fascinates me in the same way, and probably for the same reasons, that Jimi Hendricks and Janis Joplin fascinated me. A reckless, unpredictable, but sometimes soaring talent.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    My first Houellebecq, and certainly not my last. I know the standard criticisms, and could detect the odd whiff of misogyny, but was won over by the insight, the humour and the self-paraody. It takes about 30-50 pages to hit its stride, but persist and the rewards are worth it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    The Map and the Territory, a novel by Michel Houellebecq, is a disjointed tale focusing on a French artist, Jed Martin, and his extraordinary success in the global art market. Martin starts out modestly, the son of an architect whose wife had committed suicide when Martin was a child. He's appealing in the sense that he's modest. In a peculiar way, the whole novel is modest and somehow understated although it hinges on patience-testing spoofs of the art world's vagaries and is interrupted, toward The Map and the Territory, a novel by Michel Houellebecq, is a disjointed tale focusing on a French artist, Jed Martin, and his extraordinary success in the global art market. Martin starts out modestly, the son of an architect whose wife had committed suicide when Martin was a child. He's appealing in the sense that he's modest. In a peculiar way, the whole novel is modest and somehow understated although it hinges on patience-testing spoofs of the art world's vagaries and is interrupted, toward the end, by something of a police procedural (in which Martin plays a key role.) How do you make your first major statement photographing and exhibiting MIchelin maps? You need a novel like this to say you do. How do you get further along in your career photographing ordinary objects--made things--that we all have in our house: screws, desks, lamps, pill bottles? Again, it takes a novel like this to put that one over. Finally, Martin really makes it really big painting mock heroic canvases that portray 21st century business titans as demi-gods, dividing up the world: Bill Gates, you take this part; Steve Jobs, you take that part. Jed Martin finds all this surprising. It wasn't quite what he intended, to be so famous, so rich, to have such a fabulous Russian mistress. He seems most real on Christmas eve when he traditionally dines with his aging father, who isn't interested in him. Or when he listens to the cranky hot water heater in his flat, wondering if it's trying to tell him something. Houellebecq, whom we are told on the dust jacket is "the most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time," makes several appearances in this novel himself. He's portrayed as a drunken recluse, somewhat misanthropic, the least likely guy to write an essay for Martin's exhibition catalogue that vaults Martin into the Pantheon of French painters. I told my wife what I was reading this weekend, and she said it sounded awful, why bother? I said I'd written something disparaging about Houllebecq once and felt I owed it to him to finish reading this novel…and to myself. I like to finish books and see if, in the end, there's some hidden value. The value here is quite hidden. I'd put it this way: there is a Franco-German philosophical tradition that over the course of the 20th and now into the 21st century has emphasized the mystical dimension of the mundane. This deescalates "belief" from metaphysical belief (as in believing in a God) to accepting the reverberations of consciousness reflected off the existing physical world as a higher mystery in itself. Basically, Martin stumbles through this terrain of thought in his photography and painting. He renders the inessential essential. He carries the flag first raised by DuChamp and later Warhol. He is used by Houellebecq for purposes of satire, but again, he's not an offensive fellow…wouldn't hurt a fly…it's not his fault that his publicist and gallerist are so effective…nor that the art world is desperate to find the final painter who can render the meaninglessness of meaning in stirring terms. I know that for American readers I'm exploring terrain that is unnatural to us. We still have some kind of faith in the reality of things. Continental intellectuals don't. There are passages in the novel wherein Houellebecq spends time describing a Samsung camera's instruction manual and the architectural feel of Shannon airport in Ireland. By the end of the book, Martin, in his viritual dotage, is photographing the innards of computer equipment dissolving in baths of corrosive acid (which he applies.) All the same, manuals and high-tech glop. Just as the new residents in an old village behave more or less exactly like the old residents, but with less surliness because they want to sell things to Chinese and Russian tourists (the old village residents wouldn't have known a Chinese tourist from the King of Saudi Arabia…or cared). Houellebecq has the good taste to have himself brutally murdered in this novel, and he also, as I've indicated, has an ability to focus on the quieter moments of existence, the ones we all drift through, up to and including those utterly silent seconds enveloping death itself. If you don't know the philosophical background against which he is writing--the utter relativism and disbelief that makes an avant-garde French novelist tick (and there have been similar ones before him: think Robbes-Grillet)--Houellebecq is apt to make you pity the French. If you do know that background, where everything is demystified and cyberized, lasting and evanescent, only as real as it is fake, this is something of a witty book. The problem, as a novel, really comes in the later sections where a meditation on the arts becomes a kind of police procedural. We're reasonably pleased to see Houellebecq brutalized, but the truth is that the brutalizer was an accident richocetting off another narrative accident. I think back on my friend of yore, the Spanish novelist Juan Benet, who urged me not to read his novels because they were so terribly, terribly boring. But of course I read one, and he was right. For more of my reviews of contemporary fiction, please check out Tuppence Reviews (Kindle). I cover works of history, criticism, and public affairs in that volume as well.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leonard

    After dabbling in biology in The Elementary Particles and business development in Platform, Houellebecq turns to art in The Map and the Territory. Jed Martin was an artist who as a boy began drawing flowers in his small notebooks with color pencils. Then, he turned to photographing manufactured objects such as such as handguns, diaries, and printer cartridges. But it was only when he began to photograph Michelin maps of France that he become rich and famous. Houellebecq in tracing the rise of Jed After dabbling in biology in The Elementary Particles and business development in Platform, Houellebecq turns to art in The Map and the Territory. Jed Martin was an artist who as a boy began drawing flowers in his small notebooks with color pencils. Then, he turned to photographing manufactured objects such as such as handguns, diaries, and printer cartridges. But it was only when he began to photograph Michelin maps of France that he become rich and famous. Houellebecq in tracing the rise of Jed Martin to wealth and fame also portrays his path toward the reclusive life. He lost his lover Olga. He lost his friend, the writer Michel Houellebecq. And he finally lost his father. In the end, he lived in a fenced estate and only drove to Carrefour to shop on Tuesdays. Houellebecq delved into art not as a spiritual journey but as a vision of humanity in decline and decay. As in The Elementary Particles and The Possibility of an Island, he envisioned the disappearance of the human species and the emergence of a new breed in a new world. A prophet for the twenty-first century. Although the murder and dismemberment of the writer Houellebecq is gruesome, the most poignant scene is at the end of the book when Jed Martin dying filmed the photographs of Olga, Houellebecq, his father and other past acquaintances. He put them on a canvas in front of his home and recorded them as they faded, wrinkled and decomposed into pieces through rain and sun. As Houellebecq put it, “That feeling of desolation, too, that takes hold of us as the portraits of the human beings who had accompanied Jed martin through his earthly life fall apart under the impact of bad weather, then decompose and disappear, seeming in the last videos to make themselves the symbols of the generalized annihilation of the human species.” The final testimony of decay, not only of Jed’s life but also of humanity.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Jed Martin is a man in his 30s looking for the right art to make a living. He becomes inspired to take maps of different parts of France and Europe and cut them up rearrange them and photograph them for an exhibition. He only uses Michelin maps and an employee of Michelin named Olga sees his work and begins a relationship with him. He never seems to care about her much but she is often around traveling from her native Russia to France regularly. On his way up the ladder, he meets many celebritie Jed Martin is a man in his 30s looking for the right art to make a living. He becomes inspired to take maps of different parts of France and Europe and cut them up rearrange them and photograph them for an exhibition. He only uses Michelin maps and an employee of Michelin named Olga sees his work and begins a relationship with him. He never seems to care about her much but she is often around traveling from her native Russia to France regularly. On his way up the ladder, he meets many celebrities in France including an aging reclusive writer named Michel Houellebecq (who is the real author of this book) and is hired to do his portrait for him. Jed focuses and it is often mentioned the aging body and the deterioration of the human body. He mentions it in referring to himself, Houelbecq mentions it about himself and Olga's body, she is two years older than Jed is mentioned often. Eventually Houdlbecq is murdered and Jed becomes involved in trying to find out why. While I found this book interesting, there was a very clear French male view to this book without other people being acknowledged or viewed positively. People riding a train are referred to as non productive members of society, unlike Jed, who is watching them. The people described are college students, Arab women with young children and pensioners. That turned me off as Jed watched the next generation, mothers and people who have done their work go by. Jed's utter contempt for Olga, the woman who loves him is also a bother. She is older so her body isn't perfect but it's ok. I also think his feelings about her being Russian might be a problem though it is never mentioned. An author looks at himself but doesn't bother to look at others very clearly. A work of art? Maybe.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bro_Pair أعرف

    Still not sure if Houellebecq thinks Jed Martin's art is any good...probably irrelevant. The market has decided it is! Yeah, it's a very good book. IN a world where any kind of human comfort is the exception, or, in the case of the Detective, some kind of homey surrender, in a world where euthanasia is now more popular than sex (Houellebecq has a euthanasia clinic and a brothel on the same street; no wonder to which one he depicts all the boomers as heading), then maybe only work, and a fair app Still not sure if Houellebecq thinks Jed Martin's art is any good...probably irrelevant. The market has decided it is! Yeah, it's a very good book. IN a world where any kind of human comfort is the exception, or, in the case of the Detective, some kind of homey surrender, in a world where euthanasia is now more popular than sex (Houellebecq has a euthanasia clinic and a brothel on the same street; no wonder to which one he depicts all the boomers as heading), then maybe only work, and a fair apportionment of it, is of any value. He's appropriately vicious towards the literati who contribute nothing, including the fictionalized Houellebecq in the book, which seems like more a mockery of his public persona than an exercise in ego - fuck you, Martin Amis. It's a good cudgel - one of the only things Houellebecq seems to respect is work, done in evolving styles. Yes, the only time the fictional Houllebecq doesn't seem like a drippy Skimpole is in the uncomfortable territory of his writing room, then immortalized in Jed's painting of him. Your average MFA gurnard is gonna hate this book, hate the French riffing, hate the concerns - focus on all the trite bullets on the laundry list of Houellebecq - "provocative," "erotic," etc. Not much eroticism to be found here - just the feckless struggle of creating few big American writers could own up to without making themselves into a Christ figure.

  30. 5 out of 5

    V.

    I think the only two authors currently writing stuff worth reading are Murakami and Houellebecq. The majority of American writers seem to be priviliged white males fixated on whether their character's wife is cheating on them and/or can they get away with cheating on her. And the answer is, nobody cares. I care even less about the nostalgic rubbish British writers can't seem to get enough of (even more white, equally male (technically) and much more priviliged). In this very funny book, Houellebecq I think the only two authors currently writing stuff worth reading are Murakami and Houellebecq. The majority of American writers seem to be priviliged white males fixated on whether their character's wife is cheating on them and/or can they get away with cheating on her. And the answer is, nobody cares. I care even less about the nostalgic rubbish British writers can't seem to get enough of (even more white, equally male (technically) and much more priviliged). In this very funny book, Houellebecq more or less ignores his usual preoccupation with prostitution and focuses instead on the art world, or more specifically the transformation of art from individual expression to manufactured commodity. But more importantly, to me, he tackles the world as it is and lays out how he thinks things will continue, something British and American writers have long since chickened-out of doing. His protagonist, Jed Martin, is the familiar man out of touch from most of his books, but his role as artist - almost an autistic savant - allows for an ousider's view of both the art world and the world in general. It's a satire and if you don't find anything amusing about self-important people deciding what constitutes good art and how much that's worth, then you may not enjoy this story. Very deftly written, highly opinionated and quite bitter and dark at times, although feels like he had a lot of fun writing it. I certainly had a lot of fun reading it.

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