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Magee Academic Offers Fresh Insight Into French Author

20 May 2010

A new book by University of Ulster academic John McCann gives a fascinating insight into the work of  the controversial and award winning French author, poet and filmmaker Michel Houellebecq.

Houellebecq’s books have been translated into many languages and his profile in the English speaking world is unusually high. “Without a doubt, Houellebecq is one of France’s most provocative satirists with as many admirers as detractors. He calls a ‘spade a spade’ and has no time for self-deception,” says McCann, who lectures in the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures on the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster.

McCann, who is based at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus, continues: “Houellebecq deflates the projected utopias that we imagine to protect us from the ills that beset us. He faces the reader with the totalitarianism that can be unleashed when our secular and religious faiths promise to secure the future in this world or the next – while at the same time showing the limits of our attempts to forge an all-encompassing view of the world. More than many other novelists, his work is a reflection of the social and economic reality of life in a post-industrial society.”

When Houellebecq’s novel Les particules élémentaires (published in English as Atomised) was published in 1998, it sent shockwaves through the French leftwing intellectual society. Following a publicity tour for Plateforme (Platform) in 2001, he was accused of inciting racial hatred and landed with a lawsuit.

According to McCann, Houellebecq “has his finger on the pulse” and his work, which covers a wide range of controversial issues such as paedophilia, sex tourism and terrorism, is very relevant in today’s society.

Although better known for his blackly humorous novels, Houellebecq - who now lives in the west of Ireland - is also a published poet and rap musician.  

John McCann, who is originally from Banbridge, County Down studied French and Spanish at Queen’s University, Belfast before being appointed as a French lecturer at the Ulster Polytechnic. Since 1987, he has been based at Magee. His research interests are in nineteenth and twentieth century literature and he has already published on Houellebecq.

Michel Houellebecq: Author of our Times. (Peter Lang, 2010)