Apologizing for the Bother

“It’s a small, white, scored oval tablet.” A little pill stands between Florent-Claude Labrouste and his planned defenestration. It offers only a temporary reprieve from the meaninglessness of life. As the narrator of Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel assures us, Captorix:

provides no form of happiness, or even of real relief; its action is of a different kind: by transforming life into a sequence of formalities it allows you to fool yourself. On this basis, it helps people to live, or at least to not die—for a certain period of time. But death imposes itself in the end…

Not exactly beach reading.

In Serotonin, as in his other novels, Houellebecq writes of the benighted lives of the spiritually bereft. His characters are heirs of the Enlightenment, living vaporous lives among the metaphysical ruins of Western civilization. Reading Houellebecq is rather like viewing fascinating ruins; but instead of dilapidated buildings, one sees the decaying inner life of Western man.

Labrouste, unlike Binx Bolling in Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer (1961), can’t even be bothered with the search for meaning. And, in any case, he no longer has a reference point. “Nothing,” Labrouste says, “had given me the feeling that I had a place to live, or a context, let alone a reason.”


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