Can Lorin Stein Translate Michel Houellebecq Into a Great Writer?

At the beginning of Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, Submission, Houellebecq, perhaps unwittingly, analyzes himself. “The beauty of an author’s style,” he writes, “the music of his sentences, have their importance in literature … but an author is above all a human being, present in his books, and whether he writes very well or very badly hardly matters—as long as he gets the books written and is, indeed, present in them.”

Few would call Houellebecq, who holds the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honor, a “bad writer,” but in France he is known for his narrative inventiveness while his style is generally accepted as second-rate: something readers put up with in order to get to his ideas. And yet in Submission, his latest novel, his style is so distracting that the Parisian weekly L’Express called him out as “a poor writer but a good sociologist,” adding, “a good writer would not use ‘based on’ in lieu of ‘founded on,’ ‘however’ in place of ‘on the other hand,’ and ‘wine vintage’ when he wants to mean ‘vintage.’ ”

Read more: Slate

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