Michel Houellebecq’s darkly brilliant novel, Atomised, provides a bleak yet often humorous portrayal of modern life as viewed by the novel’s two protagonists – half-brothers with wildly different personalities seeking wildly different goals. The author’s addictively readable narrative of Michel – a saintly introvert devoted to scientific research and Bruno – an incorrigible sinner obsessed with sexual pursuits, is filled with energy, mordant humour and (throughout the book) wondrously passionate excess.
While following the separate but interlocked odysseys of the two brothers, Hoellebecq weaves discussions of history, biology, politics and, not least, sexuality as these affect his protagonists’ lives. For all the frustrations and failings of the brothers’ separate experiences, Atomised in the end presents a paradoxically (if at times perversely) moral view of these two anti-heroes, each alienated from surrounding society in his own way.
For these distinctive qualities, the judging panel of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is pleased to present its year 2002 award to Michel Houellebecq for his extraordinary novel, Atomised, translated by Frank Wynne.
Half-brothers Michel and Bruno have a mother in common but little else. Michel is a molecular biologist, a thinker and idealist, a man with no erotic life to speak of and little in the way of human society. Bruno, by contrast, is a libertine, though more in theory than in practice, his endless lust being all too rarely reciprocated. Both are symptomatic members of our atomised society, where religion has given way to shallow ‘new age’ philosophies and love to meaningless sexual connections. Atomised tells the stories of the two brothers, but the real subject of the novel is the dismantling of contemporary society and its assumptions, its political incorrectness, and its caustic and penetrating asides on everything from anthropology to the problem pages of girls’ magazines.