Synopses & Reviews
Michel Renault is a human void. Following the death of the father he barely knew, he endures his civil service job while eking out an existence of prepackaged pleasure, hollow friendships, TV dinners, and pornography. On a group holiday in Thailand, however, he meets the shyly compelling Valérie, who soon pursues an agenda that Michel himself could never have thought possible: his own humanization.
Back in Paris, they plunge into an affair that strays into S&M, public sex, and partner swapping, even as they devise a scheme to save Valérie's ailing travel company by capitalizing on the only trade Michel has seen flourish in the Third World. Before long, he quits his job, and their business model for "sex tourism" is gradually implemented. But when they return to Thailand, where Michel's philosophy will be put into practice, he discovers that sex is neither the most consuming nor dangerous of passions...
From a suburbanized West crippled by hate crime to an East subsumed by materialism, Michel Houellebecq explores with characteristic provocativeness, but also with surprising tenderness the emotions that seem most resilient to any influence: love and hate. Platform is, as Anita Brookner has written, "a brilliant novel, casting a prescient eye on the abuses and inequalities that lead to wider trouble."
In his new work, Michel Houellebecq combines erotic provocation with a terrifying vision of a world teetering between satiety and fanaticism, to create one of the most shocking, hypnotic, and intelligent novels in years.
In his early forties, Michel Renault skims through his days with as little human contact as possible. But following his fathers death he takes a group holiday to Thailand where he meets a travel agent—the shyly compelling Valérie—who begins to bring this half-dead man to life with sex of escalating intensity and audacity. Arcing with dreamlike swiftness from Paris to Pattaya Beach and from sex clubs to a terrorist massacre, Platform is a brilliant, apocalyptic masterpiece by a man who is widely regarded as one of the worlds most original and daring writers.
About the Author
Michel Houellebecqs The Elementary Particles, an international bestseller, won the prestigious Prix Novembre in France as well as the lucrative International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He lives in Ireland.
Reading Group Guide
“A terrific writer, funny and prophetic . . . feverishly alive to the world around him.” —The New York Times Book Review
The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Michel Houellebecqs controversial and powerful new novel, Platform.
1. What kind of narrator is Michel Renault? How does he view the world? How is he different from the narrators of most contemporary fiction?
2. Michel admires Agatha Christie for her “Dickensian sense of wonder” and her depiction of despair: “This was despair—this utter outer darkness of coldness and loneliness. And the sin of despair, that priests talked of, was a cold sin, the sin of cutting oneself off from all warm and living human contacts” [p. 71]. Why does Michel find this passage so compelling? How does it illuminate his character and circumstance?
3. What is surprising about the way Michel reacts to his fathers death? What do his reactions reveal about his character, his history? Why does he think that his fathers death gives him “a certain freedom” [p. 62]?
4. When Aicha, his fathers cleaning woman, tells Michel, “I dont want to disturb you,” he responds: “Youre not disturbing me. In fact, nothing disturbs me” [p. 5]. Where else in the novel do we see this kind of passivity from Michel? Why has he moved beyond the conventional emotional responses to his world? What events have made it impossible for him to be disturbed? Does he change over the course of the novel?
5. Why does Michel despise popular American novelists like Tom Clancy and John Grisham. How does he express his contempt for these books? In what important ways is Houellebecqs approach to the novel different from such authors?
6. Valérie tells Jean-Yves “Do you really want to buy yourself a Ferrari cabriolet? A holiday home in Deauville, which will only get burgled anyway? To work ninety hours a week until youre sixty? . . . The only thing the Western world has to offer is designer products” [p. 234]. In what ways can Platform be read as an indictment of the emptiness of western culture and western values? To what extent is Valérie right in her assessment of what the West has to offer and what it demands in return?
7. Some reviewers have criticized Platform for its apparent anti-Islamic sentiment. Is this a fair criticism? How are Muslims depicted in the book?
8. Michel describes himself dismissively throughout the novel: “What had I produced in the forty years of my existence? To tell the truth, not very much. . . . It would be easy to get by without people like me” [p. 63]. “I was perfectly adapted to the information age—that is to say, good for nothing” [p. 161]. How does Houellebecq manage to make Michel interesting to readers, in spite of his lack of interest in himself? In what ways can Michel be seen as an antihero?
9. Michel writes, “The minute they have a couple of days of freedom, the inhabitants of Western Europe dash off to the other side of the world . . . they behave—literally—like escaped convicts” [p. 20]. What inherent problems with tourism and the desire for travel does Platform explore? What is Michels solution to that problem? Why is his idea to expand sex tourism greeted with both enthusiasm and outrage?
10. At the end of the novel, Michel says, “If by chance it had been my intention, when I began writing these pages, to lessen the feeling of loss, or to make it more bearable, I would by now be certain of my failure: Valéries absence has never been more painful to me” [p. 256]. How has the knowledge of Valéries death colored the tone and mood of Michels writing? Why hasnt writing eased his pain or provided any kind of enlightenment?
11. Why does Houellebecq write about sex so often and in such detail in Platform? What value does sex have in Michels life?
12. What are some of the funnier moments in Platform? How does humor fit into the darker fabric of the novel?
13. Platform has generated a good deal of controversy in France and elsewhere, with readers, critics, and fellow writers being sharply divided about both the literary merits of the novel and what some feel to be its deliberately offensive or shocking passages. What is it about the novel that has sparked this controversy?
14. When Valérie voices her incomprehension of masochism, Michel reflects that “the things people do, the things they are prepared to endure . . . there was nothing to be made of all this, no overall conclusion, no meaning” [p. 137]. Does Houellebecq intend his readers to view Platform in this way? Does the novel offer any larger meaning?