Michel Houellebecq stops promotion
of new novel after Charlie Hebdo attack
Soumission, which envisions France being ruled by a Muslim, featured on cover of satirical magazine on day of Paris attack
Friday 9 January 2015 10.39 GMT
The French novelist Michel Houellebecq, whose latest book featured on the cover of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on the day of the massacre at its offices, has stopped its promotion as the victims were being mourned.
Houellebecq, a friend of economist Bernard Maris, who was among the 12 people shot dead on Wednesday, was “deeply affected” and had decided to leave Paris for an unspecified rural retreat, his agent said on Thursday.
Houellebecq’s topical new novel Soumission (Submission), which imagines France being ruled by a radical Muslim president after France and Europe“submit” to Islam, came out on Wednesday.
His publisher’s offices were evacuated shortly after the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and placed under police protection amid fears that France’s enfant terrible may be on a terrorist hitlist. Houellebecq has in the past described Islam as the “stupidest” religion.
In the book, the Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, competes with the leader of the fictional Muslim Fraternity party, Mohammed Ben Abbes, for the presidency in 2022 at the end of Socialist president François Hollande’s disastrous second term.
The timing of the book’s release and the assault is striking. After the attack, The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, told reporters: “France is not Houellebecq. It’s not intolerance, hatred and fear.”
The writer is pictured on the cover of this week’s Nouvel Observateur magazine, which went to press before the attack, saying: “I’ve survived every attack.”
Houellebecq has received extensive publicity for Submission thanks to a smart communications strategy that allowed the book to be leaked to selected friends of the novelist before its official publication. Wednesday’s Charlie Hebdo ran a caricature of the novelist on the cover, showing the famously mumbling chain-smoker saying: “In 2015 I lose my teeth, in 2022 I’ll do Ramadan.”
Houellebecq has a history of provoking public opinion through his novels, and moved to Ireland where he spent several years after being accused, and acquitted, of racial hatred. His best-known book, Platform, tackled the issue of sex tourism. In 2010, he won the prestigious Goncourt prize for his last novel, The Map and the Territory, which satirised the modern art world.
Submission shot straight to the top of Amazon bestsellers in France even before publication. Houellebecq had been expected to appear on a popular news show on the Canal+ TV channel on Thursday, which ended up running a special edition on Charlie Hebdo. Instead, he gave an interview to the show’s host, Antoine de Caunes, which is due to be broadcast on Friday evening.
Submission is to be published in an English translation in September.