Atomised by Michel Houellebecq

I suppose the first problem is the translation of the title. In French, it’s Les Particules élémentaires. In the US, it’s The Elementary Particles. Here, it’s Atomised, which you half-suspect is being too clever by half, and which goes some way to explaining why it’s taken me well over a decade to read a book that was a succès de scandale on publication.

In its particulars, the novel follows a pair of equal opportunity hate artists, half-brothers who fail and rage at women and children and society and life in a post-68 France seen through the gimlet-eyes of a provocateur and sensationalist who never misses an opportunity to see the very worst in everyone and everything. It’s practically the definition of anomie.

Here’s Adam Gopnik on the book’s thesis:

“The libertarian advances of the post-’68 generations have led to a sinkhole of violence and despair: that materialism and sexual liberation end inevitably in misery, violence, and hopelessness… It is violently anti-individualist and anti-rationalist … and the only way out it offers lies in the possibility of taking a grimly stoical satisfaction in a scientific apocalypse that will put an end to humanity itself.”

A novel of ideas, then. Or, worse, a novel of hypotheses. Think of it as a book-length screed from Jacques ‘Jacques’ Liverot:

“An optimist sees half a pint of milk. He says ‘It is half full’. A pessimist sees half a pint of milk. He says “It is half empty”. I see half a pint of milk, I say ‘It is sour’.”

Perhaps when I’m older, with the kippered liver and encrusted heart, this novel will resonate with me in ways I can only guess at. At the moment, it doesn’t. I’m kinda glad about that.


  • The fourth paragraph on this Digested Read exactly describes the novel’s style and what’s wrong with it.
  • To be scrupulously fair, Houellebecq’s book on Lovecraft is pretty good. Here’s an extract if you’re unsure. 

Things my Granddad said at Latitude 2013

Things my Granddad said at Latitude 2013*: 

1. “Disclosure are OK, but all their songs sound the same, apart from the good one”.
2. “Foals are OK, but all their songs sound the same, apart from the loud one, aka the good one”
3. “Don’t young people know that it gets cold at night?”
4. “You’ll not get me in THAT toilet”
5. “As I suspected, the festival experience is improved 1000% by carrying a chair at all times, and sitting in it most of them.”
6. “SOMEONE must want to sell me a rug, to keep the chill away from my knees.”
7. “That was a good dance, now let’s find a stand selling hot chocolate.”
8. “Please explain Alt-J. I have the patience.”
9. “Phew, I nearly mislaid my ear-plugs!”
10. “Our tent was advertised as having a shag-pile rug. Kindly explain why it does not”.

*OK, fine, Granddad didn’t say these things, he’s long since gone to the middle-class festival of ideas and culture in the sky. I said them, OK?