Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker:
The French writer Michel Houellebecq has become a literary “case” to be reprimanded as much as an author to be read, and his new novel, “Soumission,” or “Submission,” shows why. The book, which will be published in English by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is shaped by a simple idea. In France in the very near future, the respectable republican parties fragment the vote in a multiparty election, and the two top vote-getters are Marine Le Pen, of the extreme right, and one Mohammed Ben Abbes, the fictive leader of a French Muslim Brotherhood. In the runoff, the French left backs the Muslim, preferring the devil it doesn’t know to the one it does. Ben Abbes’s government soon imposes a kind of relaxed Sharia law throughout France and—this is the book’s central joke and point—the French élite are cravenly eager to collaborate with the new regime, delighted not only to convert but to submit to a bracing and self-assured authoritarianism. Like the oversophisticated Hellenists in Cavafy’s poem, they have been secretly waiting for the barbarians all their lives.
Houellebecq is one of those writers who cause critics to panic, since placing him is tricky. He is probably the most famous French novelist of his generation. An immediately recognizable caricature of Houellebecq as a wannabe Nostradamus was the image on the last issue of Charlie Hebdo before the attack on its staff. But he is not a particularly graceful stylist, and it exasperates French writers who are to see him made so much of outside France, not to mention within it.