Houellebecq’s Lanzarote: talk about a waste of time
I judge a book by its cover; I also judge it by its author and what he or she has written before, which is why I picked up Lanzarote, along with the rest of Houellebecq’s work, after reading that mind-blowing novel Atomised.
Except, in retrospect I should perhaps read some Amazon reviews first.
What an utterly shit book this is! I cannot express myself strong enough, more so because I feel betrayed by the standard I’ve come to expect from Houellebecq. I feel more betrayed than I did by the last two volumes of Stephen King’s Gunslinger series. We’re talking about simple trading standards here. When I buy a Mercedes I certainly don’t expect to have a Skoda dumped at my door.
Lanzarote begins with an interesting take on the tourism industry: it’s not only about escapism; its existence is evidence of how sad we’ve become that we must flock to some destination to derive meaning from life. The protagonist’s life is utterly void of something to do, so he flies to Lanzarote without knowing exactly what he wants to do there either. On the island he meets Rudi, a police officer from Luxembourg, who also doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Thus, two pessimists become a pair, though they aren’t particularly fond of each, and you guessed it … they don’t really know what to do around each other.
The landscape of Lanzarote, and the cheap tourist dives along its coast, come to embody that empty inner world. When the two men meet two German lesbians who are up for a straight shag with the protagonist, one gets a sense of how far reduced all their lives have become. Like hamsters in a cage, fucking in the boring expanse of sawdust, just to while away the time.
Fine, fine, fine. I can see all that. But if you’re going to write a novel and charge me £6 for it, please just make it’s about something. A ninety page diatribe on boredom and the emptiness of our human pursuits is, well, boring. The best part of this ridiculous novella is the colour photos.
A book that is more meaningful and in a similar vein is Ken Barris’s What Kind of Child. Not the greatest, but similar themes, a similar mood of perpetual melancholy, and oh so much more readable.