May 31, 2014 · 1:00 PM
Michel Houellebecq is a controversial French author, filmmaker, magician, and poet. His work is highly sexual with racial overtones. He has been accused of being a pornographer and a racist. After he made anti-Islamic statements during a 2001 book tour he was sued by a civil rights group for inciting racial hatred. He was acquitted, but had to flee France and now lives in Spain. He was awarded the 1992 Tristan Tzara Award, the 1996 Grand Prix National de Lettres, the 2002 Dublin Literary Award, and 2010 Goncourt Literary Award.
Elementary Particles tells the story of two half-brothers, Michel and Bruno, and their mental struggles against their situations in modern society. The novel's publication caused quite a stir in French literary circles, and it sold hundreds of thousands of copies and vaulted Houellebecq into the French intellectual and literary spotlight during the summer and autumn of 1998. The vivid sexual descriptions were a frequent target of criticism. The author was eventually awarded the Prix Novembre in recognition of the novel. He became the last one to get this prize under this name. Philippe Dennery, the founder of the Prix Novembre, disapproved awarding of the prize to Houellebecq and resigned, the prize got a new patron--Pierre Bergé--and a new name: Prix Decembre.