Ben Sixsmith on M.H. in The Agonist:
Atomised and Submission were bricks hurled through the windows of the cultural establishment: damaging its optimistic pieties about the promise of the sexual revolution, mass immigration, and technological progress. Now, though, Houellebecq is not outside throwing bricks through the windows but inside throwing food at the walls. He has been assimilated into the establishment: a Prix Goncourt winner and a recipient of Légion d’honneur. Why has this anti-modern writer been so heartily embraced by the modern world? Perhaps it is because the depths of his pessimism make him perversely unthreatening. Houllebecq is not an angry man in search of change but a cynical man who revels in mischief and mockery. This has been to his advantage artistically as he has maintained his sharp sense of ironic observation. Here, though, it seems to have made him listless. How many times can you tell the same jokes, regardless of their power, without them growing weak? Atomised, Platform and Submission were no less grim but had a freshness of theme, while The Impossibility of an Island and The Map and the Territory had structural playfulness and ingenuity. Here, Houellebecq is less exploring gloom than wallowing in it. Dull-minded critics, knowing only the environs, will not tell the difference.
If Serotonin underwhelms on the macro level, it still has elements that will endure. Houellebecq’s portrait of decline, though overegged in the beginning, becomes more perversely impressive as Florent-Claude limps towards the end of the book, deciding against suicide only because he cannot bear to leave his savings unspent.
Houellebecq’s charmless, gluttonous protagonist is a challenge to the reader; a challenge made explicit in the religiously-inflected final paragraphs.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor