Gallows humour on every page: the personage hanged being Western civilisation

Dalrymple writes that the ironic title alone of Michel Houellebecq’s Sérotonine is testimony to the brilliance of his diagnostic powers and his capacity to capture in a single word the civilisational malaise which is his subject.

Houellebecq

satirises what might be called the neurochemical view of life, which is little better than superstition or urban myth.

Abattoir for sacred cows

For Dalrymple the pleasure of reading Houellebecq

is not in the plot, still less in the characterisation, which is thin because the protagonist-narrator is so egotistical that he has little interest in anyone else (a trait which is widespread or even dominant in the modern world). It is in the mordant observations that Houellebecq makes on consumerism and its emptiness.

Dalrymple points out that Houellebecq’s observations

make many people extremely uncomfortable, not because they are inaccurate, but because they are only too accurate and could conceivably lead to unpleasant conclusions, or at least thoughts. They therefore reject the whole: it is the easiest way to deny what one knows to be true.

Dalrymple notes that Houellebecq’s work

is filled with disgust, as was Swift’s: but it is the kind of disgust that can only emerge from deep disappointment, and one is not disappointed by what one does not care about.

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