On the January morning when Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel appeared in French bookshops, Islamist gunmen killed twelve people at Charlie Hebdo’s offices. Commentators noted the coincidence with unease, as if the massacre could lend plausibility to the tale of a Muslim takeover of the country. It was not the first time that Houellebecq had been credited with an uncanny sense of timing. His third book, Platform, which features a mass murder by Islamist militants, was released two weeks before 11 September 2001.
The parallels between fact and fiction may have been unavoidable, but they are misleading. Life did not imitate art on 7 January. There are no jihadists in Submission. The only violent acts it mentions are carried out by French nativists. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate who wins the presidency by making deals. The subsequent Islamisation of French society is depicted as a painless, almost natural process.
Submission’s basic premise is one that recurs throughout Houellebecq’s work: European society has been spiritually gutted by relativism,