Hands off my Houellebecq, Updike

It's always a peculiar thing when a known fiction author decides to review the work of another in the pages of an Esteemed and Official Literary Publication -- that's because these reviews are always some kind of vanity pageant on the part of the reviewer. Either it's an admission pass to some literary club or school, a pompous and gutless attack explaining why the author in question will never be a member of a literary club, a self-appointed defense of a cultural weak point that millions adhere to that the author in question has exposed to be BS.... I have ten more, but you get the picture, because you've read these things too. Ok -- so here's the one that had me laughing:

John Updike took it upon himself to defend New England's puritan hangover and attending prudish sensibilities from the fun, sex romp novels of Michel Houellebecq in the New Yorker. Not only this, Updike also defended the literary leafy redoubts of New England from the society/science issues that Houellebecq masterfully raises in his books. I'm going to do something on behalf of Updike; collect all the key judgements he interspersed in his review and put them together in one moralizing blob to demonstrate the true mission of Updike's work -- and, like a 1st year undergrad in lit class, I'm going to highlight The Important Pointth and Themeth in Updike's critithism.



  • ...[Houellebecq's] thoroughgoing contempt for, and strident impatience with humanity in its traditional occupations and sentiments prevents him from creating characters whose conflicts and aspirations the reader can care about.

  • ...Houellebecq and Hugh Hefner alike offer the ailing world a panacea of self-righteous hedonism. ... Their connoisseur’s emphasis on the physical perfection of the naked young women whom they present as pieces of Utopia verges on pedophilia.

  • Houellebecq’s solemnly blunt descriptions of sex acts are notorious, or as notorious as such things can be in a sex-saturated age; but it is one thing to propagandize for sex and another to integrate it, as more than “naughty bits,” into the conflict-ridden flow of incident and psychology that make up a novel. (Sorry, can't help it: Can you believe the stupendous audacity and idiocy of Updike preaching that it's bad to make sexual acts a central part of a novel?)

  • Shakespeare is a “sad fool,” James Joyce “an insane Irishman” who wrote “ponderous prose,” and Vladimir Nabokov a “mediocre and mannered pseudo-poet” whose style resembles a “collapsed pastry.” Writers who get passing marks, sometimes grudgingly, are Balzac, Marcel Proust, Agatha Christie, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Heinrich von Kleist (Oh no Houellebecq di'in't! Updike doesn't like the Frenchman's literary hit list).

  • The hero of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger,” a classic repeatedly echoed in Houellebecq’s oeuvre..." (Plagiarist!)

  • Houellebecq’s will to generalize smothers the real world under a blanket condemnation, and his determination to invent a more congenial one grows. (Pay no attention to the specifics on this attack. It's just a smear.)

  • Rebuffed, [female character] crawls toward [male character] to commit fellatio -- the gold standard of Houellebecq’s erotic currency... (Updike prefers the holy handkerchief?)

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