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"Although Michel Houellebecq's work is often credited with building on conservative, if not reactionary, ideas, his critical depiction of the hippie movement, New Age ideology and the May 1968 generation, especially in Atomised, echoes the "everything is permitted, nothing is possible" thesis of Marxist sociologist Michel Clouscard." --Sholem Stein

"In reality, men don't give a damn about their kids, they never really love them. In fact, I'd say men aren't capable of love; the emotion is completely alien to them. The only emotions they know are desire -- in the form of pure animal lust -- and male rivalry." --Atomised, tr. Frank Wynne

"Why has the Swedish model of social democracy never triumphed over liberalism? Why has it never been applied to sexual satisfaction? Because the metaphysical mutation brought about by modern science leads to individuation, vanity, malice and desire. Any philosopher, not just Buddhist or Christian, but any philosopher worthy of the name, knows that, in itself, desire—unlike pleasure—is a source of suffering, pain and hatred. The utopian solution—from Plato to Huxley by way of Fourier—is to do away with desire and the suffering it causes by satisfying it immediately. The opposite is true of the sex-and-advertising society we live in, where desire is marshaled and blown up out of all proportion, while satisfaction is maintained in the private sphere. For society to function, for competition to continue, people have to want more and more, until desire fills their lives and finally devours them.”

"Never could stand feminists. . . . always going on about washing dishes and the division of labor; they could never shut up about the dishes. Oh, sometimes they’d talk about cooking or vacuuming, but their favorite topic was washing dishes. In a few short years, they managed to turn every man they knew into an impotent, whining neurotic. Once they’d done that, it was always the same story—they started going on about how there were no real men anymore. They usually ended up ditching their boyfriends for a quick fuck with some macho Latin idiot. . . . Anyway, they fuck their way through two or three, maybe more if they’re really pretty, and wind up with a kid. Then they start making jam from Marie Claire recipe cards. . . ."

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Les Particules élémentaires (The Elementary Particles) is a novel by the French author Michel Houellebecq, published in France in 1998. It tells the story of two half-brothers, Michel and Bruno, and their mental struggles against their situations in modern society. It was translated in English by Frank Wynne as Atomised (Heinemann,UK)/ The Elementary Particles (Knopf, US) and won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for writer and translator. A film version Elementarteilchen premiered in the 2006.


Plot summary

Despite the essentially elaborate scope of the plot (i.e. the eventual emergence of cloning as a replacement for the sexual reproduction of the human race), the narrative focuses almost exclusively on the bleak and unrewarding day to day lives of the protagonists.

Setting and narrative

The story unfolds as a sort of framed narrative, so despite the events described therein having taken place mostly in 1999, the story is essentially set some 50 or so years in the future. A similar device was used by Kurt Vonnegut in the novel Galápagos, however unlike Vonnegut, Houellebecq only reveals the frame to the reader in the epilogue. Large sections of the story are presented in the form of suppertime storytelling dialogues between Michel, his childhood sweetheart Annabelle, Bruno, and Bruno's post-divorce girlfriend Christiane.


The story really focuses on the lives of Bruno Clément and Michel Djerzinski, two French half brothers born of a hippie type mother. Michel is raised by his maternal grandmother and becomes an introverted molecular biologist who is ultimately responsible for the discoveries which lead to the elimination of sexual reproduction.

Bruno's upbringing is much more tragic as described: shuffled and forgotten from one abusive boarding school to another, he eventually finds himself in a loveless marriage and teaching at a lycée. Bruno grows into a lecherous and insatiable sex addict whose dalliances with prostitutes and sex chat on Minitel do nothing to satisfy him, to the point where he finds himself on disability leave from his job and in a mental hospital after a failed attempt at seducing one of his students.

Reception and recognition

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, almost pornographic sexual descriptions were a frequent target of criticism, and Houellebecq himself attracted both scorn and praise for his erratic proclamations and behaviour on television interviews and the like. The author was eventually awarded the Prix novembre in recognition of the novel.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Atomised" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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