I started writing this review about the academic epiphany I had while reading this book: the character mentions many writers, thinkers, philosophers, in quotations that made no sense to me. I felt incapable of what I chose as a career. But in the course of writing it, I realized that I got more upset about the book because of another characteristic of mine: that I am a woman.
Submission carries such a heavy burden for real events that its pages fail to meet the expectations placed on them.
The book follows a professor of literature, solitary and indifferent, who sees France undergoing the most powerful political transformation of recent times: the establishment of an Islamic government. Houellebecq was on the cover of Charlie Hebdo when the newspaper was attacked on January 7, 2015, the same day Submission was released. The author, known for his controversial persona, had already been tried [and acquitted] by Islamophobic remarks. Soon, the book was marked, became a symbol and inexorably tied to the attack itself. A burden, which in the edition I bought, is on the cover: The most polemic book of the year, a sentence full of meaning, which imposes an expectation, unrequited and therefore unfair, to the book.
Regardless of all the controversy, the distaste I felt with the narrator was also evident in the book club (it was the second book of 2017). François is a middle-aged, misogynist and apathetic scholar, so very different from the voice we would like to read in a book that shows a political transformation so in need of revolt. Especially for us, women of the club.
The satire here, which is not even so satirical, shows us that when this Islamic government is installed, nothing changes so much… for someone like François. In fact, his life improves and here it is clear the criticism that the author makes with the fact that the life of an average white man will never really suffer from the political changes. François continues the same way and in any new composition, he will always have leverage. And my loathe is exactly about this: the narrator does not care about anyone and really thinks that women are inferior, so when it becomes clear that all the major changes of the new government are directed toward women, he shows no empathy or concern for the situation . It does not change anything to him. In fact he is open to conversion thinking of the wonders of having wives to cook delicious food, hot spouses to fuck, always waiting, passively, for him, at home. And attached to this narrator, we also do not know what happens outside his eyes/mind. We do not know if there are riots, protests, uprising. Of course there must have been, it is not possible that millions of women passively agreed to abandon their jobs and their freedom.
But this is the book I would like to read, not the one that I read. And that has a lot to do with the current reality. Maybe if I had read it at other times, even when it was released, my analysis would be less passionate, more objective: the book show us the consequences of the modern apathy that is too real in light of recent political events . And maybe, all the rage feelings I felt were what the author intended. It is a well written book, a bit drawn and methodical perhaps, in which the main character is a wimpy, as in many other books I’ve read…
But today, with all the news showing how fragile are women’s rights around the globe, like crazy laws against abortion; permissiveness about domestic abuses, or even here in my country, where in the new government installed, all ministries positions were occupied by old white men… all I wanted to do was rip François’s head off.
Reading Info: Submission was written by Michel Houellebecq and released in 2015. The version I read was the Brazilian edition published by Alfaguara. I encourage everyone to look for pictures of the author on google. Totally worth it.