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QBD Reviews: Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq

Houellebecq has famously called English the language of Donald Duck, so perhaps it is no wonder that Shaun Whiteside’s English translation (due for release September 26) was held back six months later than all other translations. And look, I bought a first edition in French (and it came with a beautiful Houellebecq-themed French bookmark that I now cherish as a kind of page-saving relic or even talisman, I’m sorry to admit...) and, look, I tried to read it en français, and I got through the first four pages or so at about the rate of half an hour a page ... but it was too much like work and not the sort of work I wanted to be doing, the kind of work that is pure literacy indulgence; so I gave up and waited out the language embargo patiently (and went back to Tintin for French practice).

So I’ll start with what it isn’t.

...nothing had given me the feeling that I had a place to live, or a context, let alone a reason.”

Firstly, let me just say that the ‘prophetic’ tag re. les gilets jaunes movement is over-blown. Sure, there are elements of serious discontent going on in the novel re. farming practices in France etc but nothing that mirrors anywhere near closely the actual movement and how it happened and progressed. The novel is much more relevant and interesting and terribly beautiful than to be considered some kind of Nostradamic manifesto. It’s much worse than that. It’s much more fantastic, in the literal sense of that word.

It’s also not about 'the vanquished white male'.

If anything. It’s about the dynamic that would lead to people saying it’s about the vanquished white male. The ones that say he missed the Me Too movement, which he quite obviously didn’t. He’s sitting in it, uncomfortably, like it’s a public spa bath that hasn’t been cleaned for an uncomfortably long time. And the sort of people saying: “That whole aesthetic of the ‘old white male’ is dated, past its sell-by date and clearly no longer brings anything good. ‘What’s the point in trying to save a vanquished old white male?’ the narrator asks. What’s the point, indeed.”

That’s the point ... right there, if not the meaning. The French do irony like they do pastry: delicate but calorie-ridden

...from the bureaucratic point of view, a good citizen is a dead citizen.

But Houellebecq has a way of beguiling by combining the most honestly and disarming brutal kinds of impulses of a man and the most delicate tenderness. The story does not shrink away from the most abject of things, and treats them with a banal internalised indifference. All the bluster on key issues of the moment, and everything else metoometoometoometoometoometoo on every platform where access to wifi trumps any Bill of Rights, there’s maybe a space still for the old white male, vanquished or otherwise, since no-one else seems to be noticing much outside of this at all. Maybe nobody’s meant to.

Was I, in the end, as unhappy as all that?

If you need a word for the book to be about something, happiness would be it, unsurprisingly. Claude-Florant is sad, a sadness unto death; and he is unpacking his life in an effort to assess (perhaps) why this is so. Between the lines, maybe he’s considering how things could have been different ... while at the same time understanding things can never be different.

Everything that had happened had happened for all eternity.

On a wider scale, leaving behind the ‘whiteness’ the ‘old’ and the ‘male’ as kinds of window dressings (undesirable ones, of course) we can understand that there is a connection between Claude-Florant and being vanquished, certainly; but this state does not connect with his sadness. His sadness has not come from without; it is a self-disgust, a self-vanquishment. Enemies may be all to quick to hoist a foot upon the still-breathing corpse, but there is a strong sense of Claude-Florant’s awareness of his ultimate culpability for his position. To use the Oprah-esque parlance of our times, he owns his misery. And it’s not any more or less helpful than not owning it. In fact, it’s probably worse.

An atmosphere of general catastrophe always alleviates individual catastrophe...

The malaise is individual, but of course there is a sense of it being shared. Dare I even say it: the death of the West? A culture so utterly disappointed in itself, dying of sorrow due to the girth of its own reflexive demands. Maybe, if he ever writes another novel, he will tackle what comes next, the rough beast slouching its way toward Bethlehem. Maybe he has already...

I could still carry on to the end, because I could, I could in material terms...

Houellebecq remains the only living writer that I am truly interested in reading.

Review by Sean, Eastland QBD

QBD Reviews: 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B Peterson

Clinical psychologist and academic, Doctor Jordan Peterson, has made a splash across bestseller lists with his book ’12 Rules for Life’. It has been called ‘Self-Help’, and it has been categorised in ‘Business’, but it leans much more toward a kind of personal-political manifesto; a response to a range of radical ideas that have been drifting into the mainstream over the last decade or so, much of it through the academy and publishing industry itself. He has upset people, chiefly, the pushers of these ideas. The ease and glibness with which Peterson is branded as a ‘right-winger’ or even a ‘nazi’ only goes further to prove his point of view regarding the ills he identifies, particularly in the fragmenting public sphere.

But aside from the politics, Peterson puts an importance on reading, and reading well - the kinds of books that have been foundational to how we have come about as a people and the underpinnings of us psychologically: a canon.

Naturally enough, these are books that have been around a while, what we would call ‘Classics’. His reading lists on the internet have been expanded several times, and have led to a distinct up-turn of interest in the Classics region of the bookshop. If Rowling has been thought of as being responsible for a renaissance in reading-for-children, is Peterson becoming responsible for a renaissance in reading for young-adults … and in classic indispensable canonic literature?

To go back is often a decent way to deal with discovering that you are going the wrong way, or that you are lost entirely. To be constantly progressive is only good if you have a decent idea of where you are progressing to ... and that you want to be there. These readers, many of whom have been abandoned by the contemporary publishing world, are finding that great books, unlike films or many other mediums of art, tend to become more relevant and more valuable the older they become. And they are very readily available.

Primary among these works for Peterson is Solzhenitsyn's ‘The Gulag Archipelago’, so much so that he will be contributing a new introduction to a fiftieth anniversary edition due out this November. It’s been out of print in most English-speaking countries for a number of years, so that fact that this great work is getting a fiftieth anniversary treatment at all could be down to him anyway.

Why is this book so important to Peterson? One reason he lists on his Patreon site:

It's necessary for all of us (the moderate left included) to determine exactly when and why the good intentions of the egalitarian-minded go so terribly wrong.

Solzhenitsyn's work focuses on the evils of the Soviet empire and its treatment of dissidents and criminals, political and otherwise. It is a profound, utterly gruelling and harrowing account based on the author’s own experience. It is plain and unadorned, letting the action speak for itself in all its bleak horror. By being concerned for ‘when’, Peterson hints that there might be a tipping point that serves us Stalinism, some kind of ongoing but, on the face of it, altruistic formula that at some point goes badly wrong when we fundamentally combine authoritarianism with collectivism. It is why he puts such an emphasis on personal responsibility in his own book. If you can’t change yourself for the better, just this one person, then what hope do you have in changing a society for the better? Is it any wonder the Gulags appear and get filled?

So it is certainly worth returning to a canon, and Peterson’s is a good one.

And while Peterson’s plain white book goes head to head with the bright orange-covered and playful ‘Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’, he has no easy answers, and these books in the canon don’t offer the reader any quick fix either. They offer you a further and deeper relationship with yourself, a forthright art of giving a f*ck about yourself and how you might become even more so ... yourself.

One To Keep You Up All Night

Kazuo Ishiguro shows off his amazing storytelling technique in this novel, following Kathy from her childhood at Hailsham Boarding School to her adult life beyond it. Throughout the novel, you are filled with this sense of looking back, on reflecting upon Kathy's childhood and how it has affected her relationships beyond Hailsham. Kathy spends the novel dissecting her childhood and trying to piece together the intricate puzzle which is her life and the meaning behind it.

This novel will keep you mesmerized from the first to last page. Moving, lovable and haunting throughout, Never Let Me Go is a novel for anyone who is looking for a book to literally reach out from the pages and touch them.

- Erin, Cairns QBD

The Sellout: Man Booker Prize Winner 2016!

U.S. novelist Paul Beatty has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel 'The Sellout'!

4zd3uwnze6ehezwwjwd82qczpvenpjo-largeThe first american to win the prize, Beatty's 4th novel is a biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court.

Chair of the judges Amanda Foreman said the novel "plunges into the heart of contemporary American society, with an absolutely savage wit, of the kind I haven't seen since Swift or Twain; [it] both manages to slay every social taboo and politically correct nuance, every sacred cow; and while making us laugh also makes us wince, it is both funny and painful at the same time, and it is really a novel for our times." [source: The Bookseller]

downloadBorn in the 'agrarian ghetto' of Dickens - on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles - the narrator of The Sellout is raised by his single father, a controversial sociologist, and spends his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. Led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes, he is shocked to discover, after his father is killed in a police shoot-out, that there never was a memoir. In fact, all that's left is the bill for a drive-through funeral. Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: his hometown Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident - Hominy Jenkins - he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school. What follows is a remarkable journey that challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement and the holy grail of racial equality - the black Chinese restaurant.

The Sellout is available to order in store and online. Most stores will have it in stock in November. 

Book of the Month: All The Light We Cannot See

y648Forget falling in love with a valentine this February! Fall in love with Anthony Doerr's award winning novel 'All the Light We Cannot See' instead!

Filled with love, betrayal, fear and an unmistakable determination to survive the war, Doerr's book is certain to become your new favourite story.

This book is told from two different perspectives – fifteen year old German orphan turned soldier , Werner, and a brave, yet blind, young Parisian, Marie Laure. At its simplest, this book is a story of two young, innocent souls trying to survive and fight in a war which is not theirs.

Doerr shows us scenes of unimaginable desperation and lost childhoods, as he reminds us of the importance of family, and how even the most evil of people fear death.

'All the Light We Cannot See' is a book that will remain with you long after you finish the last page. Doerr's work casts a long, dark shadow over 'The Book Thief'. I wish every book was as enjoyable and addictive as this one!

It will definitely make you fall in love with reading again!
- Jacqueline, QBD Epping

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