Almost two years ago, Michel Houellebecq published his sixth novel, Soumission (Flammarion). This novel, a piece of speculative fiction which imagines a near future where France elects an Islamic government, is a provocative work. This is as a result of how the novel taps into many of the tensions and concerns that animate both contemporary France and the broader Western world. The novel will be remembered, I suspect, for the circumstances of its publication as much as for its literary value: it was published concurrently with the Islamist attacks in Paris on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher super market. Houellebecq was, coincidentally, on that week’s cover of Charlie, too.
There is clearly a great deal to say about Soumission: I reviewed it for the Times Literary Supplement (February 15, 2015). With the support of the American University of Paris where I work, in particular its Center for Writers and Translators, I organized a panel discussion, Translating Houellebecq, to discuss the reception of the novel and some of the critical challenges posed by Houellebecq’s work. I chaired the event in March 2016 which featured the participation of Lorin Stein (editor, The Paris Review, and translator of Soumission into English) and Nelly Kaprièlian (literary editor, Les Inrockuptibles).Full details can be found at the following link: https://www.aup.edu/news-events/events/2016-03-15/translating-houellebecq
I’m very happy that both Lorin and Nelly have agreed for me to share the recording of the discussion which can be found at the link below.