So I’m a member of this book club started by a friend of mine. It’s a great thing when people force you to read books you wouldn’t normally pick up off the shelf. It’s like being back in a university English class for me: the syllabus is crammed full of bizarre authors of whom I’ve never heard, and there’s no apparent connection or theme between the books. By the time the class is over, you’re almost guaranteed to have loved one of them, and probably enjoyed a few others.
Then there’s that one book you hated. You know, the one you picked up and restarted three times because you couldn’t get into it? The one where you read ten pages and couldn’t recall any of it? The one that you tell all of your friends never to touch with a ten-foot pole?
I’ve never read anything by Michel Houellebecq, and after reading this, I can’t say that I’m motivated to read any more. I really (really) enjoy contemporary writing, but a novel like this convinces me that my literary enemy Virginia Woolf is still alive and kicking, much to my dismay.
It’s a story about sex and sex tourism. Or more specifically, it’s a story about a man whose life is so mundane that the only thing he is truly interested in is sex. Which means that sex serves as the only interesting part of the novel.
So then what about the rest of the novel that’s not about sex? What about the parts that take place in between the protagonist’s next predictable romp in the sack? It’s as mundane as he is. Hundreds of pages of exposition that describe nothing because the protagonist doesn’t give a shit. So then why should I?
If you’re a writer, and you’re writing about the fact that your character cares about next to nothing, how on earth can you expect your reader not to feel the same?
This problem is amplified by the fact that 98% of the book is written as exposition. Did Houellebecq not get the memo that exposition is boring? Surely someone translated it into French. One could make the argument that he’s using it as a stylistic device–that he is rendering the act of reading itself into the mundane as a mirror for his worthless existence. But then why the heck would anyone bother to read the novel in the first place? I know that that’s the question I’ve been asking myself. Even the dialogue is conveyed through exposition! People talk, but you wouldn’t know it because their words are often recent memories of the protagonist, and if it weren’t for the linguistic fact that utterances, even recalled ones, are marked by handy quotation marks, you’d never even realize that people speak to one another at all. When did I step into Mrs. Dalloway?
Like James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Houellebecq’s Platform can be filed under ‘Pointless’. If I want to read about sex, I’ll just scour the internet for erotic fiction; I’m sure it won’t take long…
…found some. :P