In his early forties, Michel Renault skims through his days with as little human contact as possible. But following his father’s death he takes a group holiday to Thailand where he meets a travel agent—the shyly compelling Valérie—who begins to bring this half-dead man to life with sex of escalating intensity and audacity.
Is the whore-loving, Muslim-baiting 44-year-old novelist who has stamped his name on a Euro-brand of millennial lassitude really 'hunting big game' – as Julian Barnes wrote about his last novel, Atomised? Or is he cynically potting the feeble rabbits of post-Sixties liberal piety to thrill the kind of jaded reader who laps up anything that smacks of 'political incorrectness'? ... Platform opts for droll and deadpan satire (on tourism, consumerism, the jargon of marketing) rather than mystical SF. Yet it also depicts the alienated trippers who seek paid-for oblivion in Thai or Cuban arms as people sick of life – drones and parasites for whom 'the idea of the uniqueness of the individual is nothing more than a pompous absurdity' ... This element of Houellebecq's vision – in which our frantic pursuit of happiness becomes a quest for extinction – takes aim for the biggest intellectual quarry any novelist could find in their sights now.
'It’s not up to me to invent or adopt new attitudes or new affinities with the world,' Michel declares at the beginning of the book. It is a tribute to the unvarying insistence with which Houellebecq presents his peculiar dis-affinity with the world that, 200 pages later, any ethical reservations the reader might have had at the outset have pretty well fallen away ... Michel’s glimpse of lifelong happiness becomes a measure of the depths of the misery to which he will soon be violently returned. The novel ends in resignation and despair, but along the way it accommodates a skewed and lyrical vision of romantic longing and fulfillment.
A grown man, Houellebecq reads like an adolescent. Alternately timid and aggressive, solemn, hormonal, posturing, helpless, Houellebecq tosses stones through the windows of European polite speech and attitudes, then runs away ... The story works in its preposterous way because we are not engaging with reality. Too inhibited to address the reader directly, Houellebecq employs a series of ready-made literary styles: television game-show, holiday brochures, the Guide du Routard, genuine and pastiche social science, feuilleton historiography, the business press ... Remembering, no doubt, that he is offending against the rules of speech in polite society, Houellebecq brings on a pair of Muslim characters to criticise their religion and then depart ... For the smug British reader, Platform will seem nothing so much as a resurrection of the old anti-liberal, anti-semitic, anti-Dreyfusard tradition in French thought and society.