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Literature: Houellebecq honored with the Austrian State Prize

French author Michel Houellebecq received this distinguished award seven years after novelist Patrick Modiano won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

Published: May 11, 2019, 8:32 am

    Vienna

    This year has been an outstanding one for Michel Houellebecq. He was made the Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur on 18 April already, reported French daily Le Figaro.

    One of the most translated French authors sold abroad, Houellebecq was honored for his art of “provoking debate”, according to the statement by the Austrian Minister of Culture, Gernot Blümel.

    “He writes in a clear, precise and uncompromising manner on themes that move our European society and change it profoundly: from political radicalism to terrorism to biotechnologies and the dream of immortality,” the minister added in his statement.

    With this award, Michel Houellebecq collected the sum of 25 000 euros, becoming the fifth French winner of this prize, after Eugene Ionesco in 1971, Simone de Beauvoir in 1978, Marguerite Duras in 1989 and Patrick Modiano in 2012.

    The latter went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature two years later. In his seventh novel, Sérotonine , Michel Houellebecq plunged his readers into the heart of a rural and suffering France, in anticipation of the Yellow Vest crisis.

    Houellebecq published his first novel, Whatever, in 1994. His next novel, Atomised, published in 1998, brought him international fame as well as controversy. Platform followed in 2001. After a publicity tour for Platform led to his being taken to court for “inciting racial hatred”, he moved to Ireland for several years.

    A recurrent theme in Houellebecq’s novels is the intrusion of liberal economics into human relationships and sexuality. He often alludes to economic competition extending into the search for relationships with absolute winners and absolute losers. According to Houllebecq, modern society seeks the happiness that always eludes them through the path of sexual consumerism, in pursuit of narcissistic satisfaction.

    He currently resides in France, where he has been described as “France’s biggest literary export and, some say, greatest living writer”. In 2010 he won the prestigious Prix Goncourt and, in 2015, published his controversial novel on the Islamic invasion of Europe called Submission.

    On 7 January 2015, the date of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the novel Submission was published. The book describes a future situation in France (2022) when a Muslim party is ruling the country according to Islamic law, leading to heated accusations of “Islamophobia” against the author.

    On the same date, a cartoon of Houellebecq appeared on the cover page of Charlie Hebdo with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq,” eerily prophetic. The novelist lost a dear friend, Bernard Maris, in the shooting.

    For the second time, his fictional work appeared as prescient of real events involving Islamic terrorism. In an interview with Antoine de Caunes after the shooting, Houellebecq said that he was “unwell” and had cancelled the promotional tour for his novel.

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