David L. Ulin at the LA Times:
In a 1998 piece in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnick described Houellebecq's literary intentions this way: “There are certain books — sardonic and acutely pessimistic — that systematically affront all our current habits of living, and treat our presumptions of mind as the delusions of the cretinous.”
The idea, in other words, is to make a mockery of our hypocrisies, to show us not as flawed but fatally self-deluded, the creators of a useless culture built on corrupt pieties.
“What I think, fundamentally,” he told the Paris Review in 2010, “is that you can’t do anything about major societal changes…. That’s the difference between me and a reactionary. I don’t have any interest in turning back the clock because I don’t believe it can be done. You can only observe and describe. I’ve always liked Balzac’s very insulting statement that the only purpose of the novel is to show the disasters produced by the changing of values.”
In “Submission,” these disasters have to do with the conflict between religious and secular values. “More and more people,” he told the Telegraph this week, before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, “can’t stand living without God.”