With his best-selling novels, “Atomised” (1998) and “Platform” (2001), Michel Houellebecq has become the most international of all contemporary French writers. His books revolve around the difficulties of searching for happiness and love. His stories are profoundly realistic and partly autobiographical.
Both “Atomised” and “Platform” recount the adventures of middle-aged white males looking for tenderness. Houellebecq's uncanny powers of observation, humour, and unique point of view have rightfully earned him, in less than a decade, a prominent status in European literature.
In “Platform,” his third novel, Houellebecq concludes that, for substantial segments of the population, love and happiness are almost impossible to achieve. As as solution, he comes up with the shocking recommendation that has made the book so controversial: large-scale love tourism.
Although one should not forget that “Platform” is a work of fiction, the proposal is clearly spelled out in the story. Single men from industrialized countries are encouraged to take as wives younger women from Third-World countries as a way to achieve, if not spiritual understanding, at least sensual fulfilment.
You might argue that the suggestion in Houellebecq's novel leaves essential aspects of a relationship out of the picture. No doubt, the media have also exacerbated the issue and turned Houellebecq's clever story into a scandal. As a result, the worldwide sales of the book have been pushed beyond the one million mark.
The eagerness with which Houellebecq's readers consume his writings have elevated him to a near prophetic status. During the last decades, escapades of Western men to Cuba and Thailand for a fortnight of pleasure have been known to take place in vast numbers. Nevertheless, no one before Houellebecq had formulated the issue so sharply and dispassionately.
“Platform” is a well-written novel, not an essay about love, relationships, and happiness. The main argument behind the proposal presented by Houellebecq in the book is not moral, psychological, or philosophical, but purely statistical. Let me summarize here the main elements of its logic:
- The images of love and happiness presented by television and other media are unattainable for an important part of the population in industrialized countries.
- The reason behind the lack of fulfilment is purely statistical, due to the differences between individual expectations and population structure.
- Those who can afford it would be much better off if they give up unrealistic expectations and seek out alternative solutions.
Traditional patterns of behaviour have been questioned. Principles that seemed to be generally accepted are proving to be have fewer defenders than suspected. The turmoil has blown away the dust layer that covered our ethical tranquillity and it is going to take a while before it settles down again.
[Image by rpoll under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]