Dystopian scenarios – scary, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it films and fiction – are on the rise. Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission is about what goes wrong in France when a charismatic, affable leader Muhammed Ben Abbes is swept into power in 2022, transforming French socialism and republicanism, both by now, declasse and eroded, into the Caliphate francaise.
Houellebecq, France’s premier satirist launched Submission on the very day of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, prompting the then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls to declare, “France is not Michel Houellebecq, it is not intolerance, hate and fear.”
Submission’s hero is Francois, a somewhat talented academic whose research centres around a nineteenth century French Decadent author, J.K. Huysman.
Houellebecq’s Francois, obsequious and submissive like the French who capitulated to the Germans in Vichy France watches as vast amounts of Saudi funds pour into France after certain ‘submissions’ demanded are implemented. France’s secular laws are reformed into sharia, to include women sent back to their homes, and, if appearing in public, to be veiled.
His Jewish girlfriend and her family flee to Israel while Francois, aspiring to teach at his newly renamed Islamic university, finds he must convert to Islam to aspire to a higher post:
Suddenly a tenured position as a senior lecturer was within my reach, if I wanted it. Which meant that my boring, predictable life continued to resemble Huysmans’s a century and a half before. I had begun my adult life at a university and would probably end it the same way, maybe even at the same one (though in fact this wasn’t quite the case: I had taken my degree at the University of Paris IV–Sorbonne and was hired by Paris III, slightly less prestigious but also in the 5th arrondissement, right around the corner).
Hunting down a copy of Submission after reading a review your correspondent discovered the National Library in Canberra, uniquely, does not hold the book. The only other copy of Submission in the ACT is in the Parliamentary Library and beyond the border, in Queanbeyan public library. About to organise an inter-library loan, I was lent a copy by a friend.
Submission is the latest Houellebecq novel and perhaps his most bitingly funny in parts, but it’s also a reminder of how European nations may succumb to foreign domination and ‘submit’.
Watching Malcolm Turnbull stand beside M. Macron in the Elysee Palace one wonders if, as France, France profond, were to go the way that Houellebecq’s novel seems to gloomily predict, how would we fare in Australia? Britain now has Sharia courts operating independently of British common law. Could the same thing happen here? Has it already?
If you feel depressed reading Submission despite the funny bits, read another book about occupied France, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, the story of a young married provincial Frenchwoman and a German officer whose mutual love of music brings them together in bonds stronger than war.
Born in the Ukraine, Irène Némirovsky had lived in France since 1919. She wrote Suite Française in the village of Issy-l’Evêque, where she, her husband and two young daughters had settled after fleeing Paris. In July 1942, French policemen, arrested Némirovsky as “a stateless person of Jewish descent.” Transported to Auschwitz, she died on 17 August. Suite Francaise was discovered almost 40 years later by Nemirovsky’s daughter Denise and published in 2004 in France, then the US, to become a bestseller and movie.
Both are sad stories. But Suite Francaise ends in hope, its heroine fighting with the Resistance to free France whereas Houellebecq’s deluded, cynical Francois can only watch his country slowly submerge and submit, under the Islamic tide.
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