Sirien, a young girl from northern Thailand, falls hopelessly in love with Bob, an American student who winds up in the massage parlor by accident, dragged there by his buddies after a fatefully boozy evening. Sirien waits expectantly while continuing to satisfy the needs of her numerous clients. Though pure at heart, she fervently jerks off and sucks paunchy, mustached Frenchmen supporting role for Gerard Jugnot , corpulent, bald Germans supporting role for some German actor. Bob persuades the American ambassador and the president of some humanitarian organization opposed to the exploitation of young girls to intervene supporting role for Jane Fonda.

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Books French kisses They are as permanent as clouds. But the novels of Michel Houellebecq have an important difference. For a start, they are wilfully obscene. They are also full of provocative, often comic attacks against left-liberal orthodoxies, against Islam, against capitalism and against any idea of progress. Reading Houellebecq pronounced Wellbeck is like being caught up in a tropical storm: you are blown away by the ferocity of his imagination.

The human, he believes, is a fallen creature for whom respite from the meaninglessness of the world can be found only in a kind of intense erotic abandon, in succumbing to what Iago called preposterous desires - Platform, like much of his work, is distinguished by its very good sex scenes.

Yet Houellebecq is a profoundly moral writer. A disaffected former communist, he now believes that all schemes to remake the world for the better are destined to fail; that history has no direction or meaning; that religion is a lie. So, he asks, what does it mean to live in a world without belief or consolation? In this book, he provides a kind of answer: to live in this world is to suffer.

His previous novel, Les Particules Elementaires published in Britain as Atomised , tells the story of Michel and Bruno, brothers who are born to the same progressive mother, a er in lifestyle and aspiration. Their mother later abandons the brothers; bullied and humiliated at school, their adolescence is abject. They both enter early adulthood as disturbed, isolated figures.

Atomised can be read as an attack on the revolutionary excesses of the late s, which Houellebecq believes were the cause of much of our present unrest and familial dysfunction. The novel is written out of a sense of profound crisis: what if our pursuit of freedom and pleasure was really a kind of imprisonment? What if we were wrong to abandon a moral code of restraint? No moral code of restraint determines his life.

Approaching middle age and desperately bored, he has given up all hope of self-fulfilment. When his hated father dies, leaving him a small inheritance, Michel travels to Thailand, where he experiments with prostitutes and meets a young French woman, Valerie, who works in the tourist industry. On their return to Paris, Michel and Valerie begin an affair, memorable for its tenderness and sexual extremity. But Valerie, imprisoned all day in her air-conditioned tower in Paris, is exhausted by her work.

Together with Michel she dreams of escape. They become fascinated, too, by the wealthy Westerners enjoying themselves with the local prostitute, which gives Michel the idea for his own company specialising in sex tourism. Sex tourism, he believes, is democratic.

It has the revolutionary potential to liberate even the most introverted and tongue-tied Westerner into a life of pleasure in the Orient Houellebecq is nothing if not a gleeful provocateur. Together with the support of Valerie and one of her senior colleagues, Michel establishes his own sex-tour company, Eldorador Aphrodite.

But there their hopes are destroyed by the intervention of Islamic militants who launch a murderous terrorist attack on Eldorador Aphrodite. Platform was published in France before 11 September, but it has an eerie prescience all the same. At times it is an uneven book. It has no internal borders: the novel is split between a first-person and an omniscient narration, but they are one and the same. Reading Platform, one realises again and again what a flimsy construct the self is, and how provisional is the manner in which we lead our lives.

Western individualism teaches us that we are free to remake ourselves in whichever way we chose, that we are masters of our own destiny. The modernist project taught us that individual consciousness is supreme, that it is not what we do, but what we think that makes us interesting.

Houellebecq persuasively reminds us that such notions are simply not true. The same can be said of Michel who never abandons his love for Valerie, even as he drifts into a stunned, narcotised haze at the end of the novel. It is an oddly optimistic message. But there is no doubt that Houellebecq believes in the possibility of love, if not of redemption. Which means that reading him is never deflating; it is, rather, a source of constant inspiration and delight.

Would that we could produce his like in this country.


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