"Lanzarote" by Michel Houellebecq

A very strange little novel from an author who is well known for his bizarre but highly original narratives. Lanzarote would barely qualify as a novella, it’s so short but what’s interesting about it is that it seems to have laid the groundwork for his more ambitious novel The Possibilities of An Island, since there are elements to this little book that later figure into it. 

 

The story behind Lanzarote is simple enough: An unnamed narrator comes to the realization that his upcoming New Year’s is going to be a disaster so he more or less impulsively decides to walk into a travel agency to book a trip out of Paris. The travel agent, sensitive to his limited means, suggests Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Once he arrives he meets three colorful characters on a tour of the island - Pam and Barbara, two “non-exclusive lesbians” and Rudi, a depressed police inspector from Belgium. They tour the island (and it’s desolate, rocky, near lunar-like landscape is thoroughly detailed), then it enters typical Houllebecq territory. The narrator has his way with Pam and Barbara on the beach (in explicit detail, mind you) while Rudi just hangs around watching them. 

 

After an afternoon of fun in the sun, the four go back to the hotel where people are handing out flyers about the “Azareilian Sect”, a UFO cult who desires to welcome the creators of the human race back to earth by building an “embassy” on Lanzarote. By the end of the trip, Pam and Barbara have gone and Rudi leaves a note saying that he decided to join the cult. By the time our narrator gets back to Paris, news about the cult makes sensational headlines due to their bizarre and unlawful practices. (This is where the connection to The Possibility of An Island comes in - this very same cult, the island and its landscape figure heavily into that story.) 

 

This novel reminded me a lot of Henry Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy due to its heavy sexual content however it seems somewhat incomplete and more like a trial for his brilliant Island. It’s a quick read (I read it on one round trip subway ride). Not essential Houellebecq but not a bad read since Houellebecq’s prose style and imagination are always engaging and entertaining. It is a satirical look at alienation, loss of purpose, and the lack of humanity’s progress as we move from one millennium into another - and the island’s desolate landscape, where thousands of years geological forces dwarf human accomplishment seems to indicate how small humanity really is the grand scheme of things. 

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