Serotonin (novel)  

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

Serotonin (2019, French Sérotonine) is a novel by French writer Michel Houellebecq, published in January 2019.

Contents

Plot

The book is a first-person narrative. A depressed agricultural scientist, Florent-Claude Labrouste, is living in a brutalist Parisian apartment block (Tour Totem) but commuting to Normandy to help promote French cheese. He is sympathetic to the plight of local farmers but powerless to help them retain their traditional methods:

"In short, what is taking place with French agriculture is a vast redundancy plan, but one that is secret and invisible, where people disappear one by one, on their plots of land, without ever being noticed."

After Labrouste breaks up with his girlfriend, a young Japanese woman, he quits his job and flees to a chain hotel in another part of Paris. A doctor prescribes him an antidepressant, the serotonin of the title. Although this dulls the libido, Labrouste nevertheless returns to Normandy in search of former lovers. While there, he also visits an old college friend, a divorced and suicidal aristocratic landowner. For a couple of weeks he secretly observes the love of his life (Camille), who has a son from another man.

At the climax of the novel, farmers with hunting rifles blockade a motorway. When they clash with riot police, eleven people die, including the old college friend.

In the end Labrouste moves back to Paris, contemplating suicide by jumping out of a window.

Themes

The novel depicts French farmers struggling to survive in the face of globalisation, agribusiness and European Union policy. It foresaw many concerns of the yellow vests movement which began protesting in France in 2018. Written before protesters began blockading roads in real life, Serotonin soon joined previous Houllebecq novels Platform and Submission in being termed eerily prophetic by critics.

As with many of Houllebecq's works, its narrator is an alienated, middle-aged man with a black sense of humour. There are the usual depictions of loveless sex, as well as an early masturbation scene and even bestiality. The overall mood is one of spiritual malaise and social fracture during the decline of the West.

Publication

The initial print run in France was 320,000 copies. German, Italian and Spanish editions were published the same month. An English translation is due to be released in September 2019.

Reception

In France, Serotonin was the best-selling fiction book in the week it was released. Within three days of its publication, it had sold 90,000 copies. Despite Houellebecq refusing to do publicity interviews since the Charlie Hebdo shooting of 2015, the release was considered a national event, coming as it did the same month he was awarded the Legion of Honour.

In response to the narrator of Serotonin calling Niort, "one of the ugliest towns I've ever seen", the mayor said he would send some locally grown angelica to Houellebecq's publisher to cheer up the notoriously gloomy author.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Serotonin (novel)" 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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