By Michael Houellebecq
Knopf, $26.95, 269 pages

Jed Martin, like previous Michael Houellebecq protagonists, lives out his financial and career success in a mist of psychological neutrality. He neither enjoys the pleasures afforded by his connections to the art world he has mastered nor enjoins the suffering alleviated by human connection. His life is a gray calm, at once ego-less and empty. These traits make him a less an ideal voice to carry the novel, but a sizable canvas to depict big themes.

Unlike Houellebecq’s previous narratives The Map and the Territory builds not from the inner wreck of his main character’s life. Instead, this book chronicles Jed through a kind of self-reflective nod. The author, for example, is another character in the story, but not one used to propel the narrative.  This “Michel Houellebecq” serves to explore the writer’s own psyche and past work, in contrast to that of his main character.  In this comparison, the actual writer crafts a lovely meditation on the solitude of creativity.  The big themes here, life and work, evolve in tandem without overtaxing the reader’s credulity as to the meaning of either.

Reviewed by Neil Liss