The Map and the Territory  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Map and the Territory (La carte et le territoire) is a novel by French author Michel Houellebecq. The narrative revolves around a successful artist, and involves a fictional murder of Houellebecq. It was published on 4 September 2010 by Flammarion and received the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious French literary prize, in 2010. The title was inspired by an Alfred Korzybski quote, "The map is not the territory".

The Map and the Territory is Michel Houellebecq's fifth novel. It was published five years after his prior novel, The Possibility of an Island. The Map and the Territory was among the most eagerly awaited and discussed novels of the 2010 literary season in France. An English translation by Gavin Bowd was published in January 2012.

The Map and the Territory received the Prix Goncourt on 8 November 2010 on the first ballot with seven votes against two for Apocalypse bébé by Virginie Despentes.



The novel tells the story of the life and art of Jed Martin, a fictional French artist who becomes famous by photographing Michelin maps and painting scenes about professional activities. His father is slowly entering old age. Jed falls for a beautiful Russian executive from Michelin but is unable to hang onto this relationship. He becomes extraordinarily successful and therefore suddenly rich. He meets Michel Houellebecq in Ireland in order to ask him to write the text for the catalog of one of his exhibits, and offers to paint the writer's portrait.

A few months later Houellebecq is brutally murdered and Jed Martin gets involved in the case.


In a televised interview given after the Goncourt award, Houellebecq declared that the main themes of the novel were "aging, the relationship between father and son and the representation of reality through art".

As a tongue-in-cheek gimmick, the novel also portrays a few celebrities from French literature and the French media, including Houellebecq himself, Frédéric Beigbeder, Julien Lepers, and Jean-Pierre Pernaut.

Accusations of plagiarism

The novel incorporates a few abstracts from the French edition of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia without mentioning the source, therefore without complying with the Creative Commons licence BY-SA. Flammarion, his publisher, has clarified the issue and noted that Houellebecq often uses existing texts from available documentation and web sites as raw literary material for his novels; for instance, the description of a police officer is taken from the official web site of the Ministry of the Interior and the text of a touristic leaflet is used for the humorous description of the Carpe Diem hotel.

Reaction after Goncourt award

Houellebecq had already been a contender for the Goncourt on two previous occasions. It was the first time since 1980 that the award had gone to a novel published by Flammarion. Houellebecq commented right after the award that "it is a strange feeling, but I am deeply happy" (C'est une sensation bizarre mais je suis profondément heureux).

See also

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

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