Books / Reviews


Bubble-wrap novel far from bubble gum

by Steve Finbow

Winner of the Prix Goncourt, Michel Houellebecq, in his latest novel, “The Map and the Territory,” takes us into the world of art and the life of Jed Martin, rival of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, and fan of a writer called … Michel Houellebecq.

But whereas some writers would disappear into a metafictional hall of mirrors, Houellebecq manages to reflect on death, dogs, art, sex and the future of humanity, and he does so with a sense of humor and self-deprecation. If you want something zeitgeisty, or something to stimulate your gray matter, then this is the book for you. Oh, and the simulated bubble-wrap cover is inspired.

Meanwhile, one of Britain’s top novelists, Glen Duncan, and one of America’s, Colson Whitehead, have taken on werewolves and zombies in two books that question the literary merits of the horror genre and bravely embrace lycanthropy and a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Both Duncan, in “The Last Werewolf,” and Whitehead, in “Zone One,” have a lot of fun with their cinematic narratives but beneath the freneticism and beyond the flashbacks are two very serious novels concerning alienation, sexuality, and the fate of the planet.

Both writers make important contributions to contemporary literature as a whole while earning their place alongside slipstream writers such as China Mieville, William Gibson and Jonathan Lethem.

In 2012, look out for “Hidaka,” by Wahei Tatematsu. Based on a real-life tragedy in Hokkaido’s Hidaka mountain range, Tatematsu tells the tale of six men who, in 1965, despite warnings against climbing Mount Poroshiri, decide to take on the north island’s highest peak. Tragedy strikes in the form of a fatal avalanche.

One man — Odagiri — survives, and Tatematsu fictionalizes the man’s thoughts, recounts his past, and attempts to explain decisions that resulted in the deaths of his fellow climbers.

For four days, Odagiri, trapped by the snow, drifts in and out of consciousness, moving inexorably toward a slow death. Think James Salter, M. John Harrison and Jon Krakauer.