The Map and the Territory

Michel Houellebecq

The Map and the Territory
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The Map and the Territory

Michel Houellebecq

Artist Jed Martin emerges from a ten-year hiatus with good news. It has nothing to do with his broken boiler, the approach of another lamentably awkward Christmas dinner with his father or the memory of his doomed love affair with the beautiful Olga. It is that, for his new exhibition, he has secured the involvement of none other than celebrated novelist Michel Houellebecq. The exhibition brings Jed new levels of global fame. But, his boiler is still broken, his ailing father flirts with oblivion and, worst of all, he is contacted by an inspector requiring his help in solving an unspeakable, atrocious and gruesome crime, involving none other than celebrated novelist Michel Houellebecq…

Shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2013.


There is a temptation to say that once one has read one of Michel Houellebecq’s novels, one has read them all. And while such an assertion might make the point that each of his books view the world with a similar unspiritual, annihilating humour, such a statement would be oversimplifying things – and, worse, might put readers off his most recent novel, The Map and Territory, also one of his best.

The Map and Territory, which won the Prix Goncourt (the French equivalent of the Booker Prize), is full of Houellebecq’s typical observations about the banality of contemporary life and celebrity culture. The main character is a famous artist called Jed Martin who commissions an essay on his work from the famous novelist, Michel Houellebecq, in exchange for a personal portrait. The plot of the novel is captivating and comes to a head when Houellebecq is brutally murdered. It’s not often that one reads a novel in which the author gets a chance to describe his own savagely injured corpse …

The tone is contemptuous and sarcastic (with some particularly funny descriptions of the art world), and is as absurd as it is entertaining. The most rewarding passages are when Houellebecq gets away from the plot and delivers short monologues via his narrator. In this regard, the book offers something that many Anglophone novels do not: direct access to the ideas of the author and narrator. It is an aspect of the Houellebecq’s writing that is largely absent from many English, American, or Australian novels, whose authors tend to prefer realistic representation of place and character to opinion-making.

Readers won’t find this novel as controversial as, for example, Atomised, Houellebecq’s most famous book to date (perhaps because of the relative absence of sex in The Map and the Territory), but they will find it just as provoking and enjoyable as anything that has come before.

[missing asset] Will Heyward works for Readings in Carlton and St Kilda. He has been published in the ABR and few other publications. He helps edit Voiceworks and is a contributing editor for Higher Arc.

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