Submission, by Michel Houllebecq
Part 2 (Camp of the Saints being first) of my topical reading list for this fall. By sheer coincidence, I began reading it in Paris the day after the terrorist attack that resulted in hundreds of casualties there.
The novel essentially has two non-traditional plots. Francois, a middle-aged college professor in Paris, goes through a midlife crisis, having recently stopped banging his most recent and favorite student. (That’s one “plot.”) In the background, meanwhile, the real events happen, and we learn about them in bouts of exposition. The Muslim Brotherhood, a new party in France, finishes second in the presidential election, qualifying for the runoff against the far right National Front. The leftist parties, following a disrupted runoff election (but at those behest?) agree to a deal, throwing their support to the Muslim Ben Abbas in a power-sharing deal. (Something similar happens in Belgium, coincidentally the site of post-Paris terror.)
French society slows drifts toward a religious conservatism. Subsidies for stay-at-home moms drive women out of the workforce and remove unemployment. Suspiciously, crime in the heavily Muslim banlieus drops precipitously. Ben Abbas uses his influence to invite Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt (for now) into the EU, slowly reconstituting the Roman Empire that he ultimately hopes to rule. Most relevant, the Muslims take control of the educational sector, reforming education in line with Muslim beliefs, and the to plots begin to intersect.
Francois, removed from his post for not being Muslim, is later recruited to come back, and his main concern with his conversion is how many wives he would be allowed under the new practice of polygamy. The dean recruiting him has several, ranging from 15 to 40, while even the nerdiest elderly professor is provided with a young coed.
That, roughly, summarizes the story. Houllebecq spends a lot of time telling us about Francois’ love life, though mostly it reads like an old man’s dirty fantasies. (One fun part is the annual ritual wherein his last year’s fling tells him she met someone over the summer.) The political analysis is somewhat superficial. While Houllebecq admits he accelerated the predicted demographics of the 2040s into the 2020s, so I give him a pass on that, but he misunderstands present-day Europe badly. The sort of leftist elite that would rather elect a Muslim than a far-rightist would also NEVER cede the education of their children to someone else. The political elites that could barely get southern and eastern Europe into the EU would and could not get any Muslim countries admitted except perhaps Turkey. The refugee crisis and the response thereto, if extended into the next couple of decades, would make this resistance stronger, not weaker.
Houllebecq’s strongest talent is showing the Islamic takeover as non-threatening, even welcome for a society whose liberal decadence has left it defenseless from strong convictions. There’s an insidious inevitability to this story that doesn’t hit you until you think about it for a bit.
Mildly recommended. It’s a quick read.