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[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

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[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
Michel Houellebecq (translated from the French by Frank Wynne)
The Elementary Particles
Vintage Books

Rating: 8/10 ?


September 15, 2003
You'll either love it or hate it. Truly. Or so goes the critical consensus. The Elementary Particles is a novel of juxtapositions, and it's no wonder that it's been hailed as both brilliant and repugnant.

Houellebecqq has conceived an accessible but intelligent, compassionate but irreverent, and a conceptually universal yet personally fictional evaluation of the social, sexual, political, and economic climate of the latter 20th century Western world. Set primarily in France, the novel chronicles the lives of half brothers Michel Djerzinski and Bruno Clément, respectively. One is a socially isolated, quietly radical molecular scientist impervious to emotion and the other a self-loathing, cynical, one-time flasher of twelve year-olds whose existence is largely motivated and defined by his relationship to his sexuality. Although the two men are undeniably different, they shared the misfortune of being born to the same mother, Janine. Janine's character serves as a representation of the precursors to the sexual revolution, of those who "had a ringside seat during the existential years," and more broadly of members of an "alternative" scene. Houellebecqq's observations regarding Janine are mostly scathingly tactless. But this critique serves valuably to de-romanticize the often hypocritical, pre-packaged "search for enlightentment" of Western alterna-culture.

The narrative style he employs is that of a frank, critical, and most notably, confident expert of the matters of humanity. The novel's ambitious, frequent, and curt summaries of humankind and its institutions lead us to consider The Elementary Particles as a philosophical novel. And it is. But when, at the end of the book, we find out that the third "person" narrator actually has a distinct identity, we must question, "whose philosophy is it?" Is it possible that Houellebecqq's final assignation of the narrative voice is also his final commentary? Is it that his judgment is on the narrator's perception rather than on what the narrator is perceiving?

In many instances throughout the book, scientific discourse relating to an event follows it's basic literary explanation - after a character's death comes a description of the biological process of decomposition, and a description of a young character's desirability is followed by a clinical explanation of the biological process of puberty. Djerzinski's professional research is an integral part of the story, and provides an obvious justification for the use of scientific explanation. But it's greater purpose is that it forces us to acknowledge that the more abstract ideas such as love, fear, and desire are not only associated with the actions of molecules, but that they essentially ARE the actions of elementary particles.

The original publication of this novel in France caused considerable sensation, drawing comparisons to Francoise Sagan and Albert Camus. Perhaps. But undeniably, the novel's success is that it originally and provocatively proposes that "cold" science and "warm" human experience are inextricably linked. Houellebecqq reminds us of the duality of words - that "energy," "isolation," and "mechanics" are not only the stuff of quantum physics, but are also components of our very own human relationships.

Reviewed by Michelle Brotherton


See other reviews by Michelle Brotherton

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