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Houellebecq novel forsees France's 'yellow vest' revolt

French bad-boy writer Michel Houellebecq's new novel anticipated the "yellow vests" protest shaking the country
French bad-boy writer Michel Houellebecq's new novel anticipated the "yellow vests" protest shaking the country AFP/File
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Paris (AFP)

The bad boy of French fiction Michel Houellebecq foresaw the "yellow vest" revolt that has shaken France in his new novel, which is published next month.

The deeply depressed hero of "Serotonin" is an agricultural engineer who returns to his roots in a provincial France devastated by globalisation and the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

He finds a resentful rural populace who are "virtually dead" yet ripe for rebellion and who rise up to block motorways, much as the yellow vest movement has done.

The novel -- which has already been declared Houellebecq's darkest and saddest work -- was written long before the sudden wave of popular anger shook President Emmanuel Macron.

Houellebecq is a fierce eurosceptic who became a pin-up of France's far right after his last book, "Submission", with its vision of a France subject to sharia law after electing a Muslim president in 2022.

This time he rails against politicians who "do not fight for the interests of their people but are ready to die to defend free trade."

His hero -- a typically Houellebecqian narrator who is a thinly veiled cipher for the author -- also blames feminism for the decline of the West.

"No one will ever be happy again in the West," he writes in a book which describes a France deeply ill at ease with itself.

- 'Dying civilisation' -

"This is how a civilisation dies, without dangers or drama and very little carnage," says his alter ego Florent-Claude Labrouste, a 46-year-old "dying of sadness" whose Japanese partner hates him and whose career is all but over.

In his native Normandy, where he goes in search of his ex-wife who left him when he slept with a black woman, Labrouste finds factory workers being laid off and failing farmer after farmer shooting themselves.

"What is happening in France right now," he says is a huge hidden plan to clear the countryside, "to meet European levels... people are disappearing without ever making headlines."

Although reviews of the novel were meant to be kept under wraps until next Thursday, Nelly Kaprielian, the critic of the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles broke ranks to declare "Serotonin" -- a reference to the antidepressant the narrator takes -- a "fine twilight novel, perhaps the most sombre by the author".

Rival magazine L'Obs called it Houellebecq's best book, "a beautiful work of infinite sadness".

Its critic David Caviglioli said it brought him twice to the point of tears.

- Charlie Hebdo joke -

Last week Houellebecq, an arch provocateur, called Donald Trump "one of the best American presidents".

In October he raised eyebrows by presenting the Oswald Spengler prize, named after the German fascist philosopher who wrote "The Decline of the West".

At the ceremony he said France should leave the euro, that "Muslims were a problem" in Europe, and it would be better if "the Catholic Church were back on top".

The writer was forced into hiding after "Submission" was published on the day of the Charlie Hebdo jihadist massacre in Paris in 2015, in which he lost a close friend.

The satirical magazine had featured him on its cover that day with the mocking headline, "The prophecies of the magus Houellebecq -- I will lose my teeth in 2015, and in 2022 I will observe Ramadan," a reference to the novel's highly controversial premise of an Islamic France.

This week the magazine joked that this time "we will refrain from speaking ill of him. It didn't work out so well the last time."

"Serotonin" is published in French on January 4 and in English next September.

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