This is a bold and unsettling portrait of a society falling apart: the rage that both left and right, the piously religious as well as the humanists, have expressed towards Houellebecq is pretty much the rage of Caliban seeing his face in the glass. There is not too much doubt that Houellebecq is an unpleasant person. (We're no slouches in this regard, but France has a gift for producing nasty writers.) One does not want to examine his ideas on race too deeply, just yet. I would get this and read it before that particular time bomb explodes.
The reader of the newly translated English version can only conclude that controversy — over the book's right-wing politics and willfully pornographic passages — accounts for the novel's high profile. As a piece of writing, The Elementary Particles feels like a bad, self-conscious pastiche of Camus, Foucault and Bret Easton Ellis. And as a philosophical tract, it evinces a fiercely nihilistic, anti-humanistic vision built upon gross generalizations and ridiculously phony logic. It is a deeply repugnant read … The women who try to connect with Michel and Bruno are mercilessly killed off by Mr. Houellebecq to underscore the futility of all human relationships … This is the vision not only of someone who despairs of the human condition, but also, the reader of this repellent book is reminded, of someone who wants us to believe that the psychotic Bruno is a ‘pretty typical’ human being.
The bulk of the book — and its strength — lies in its scathing jeremiad against contemporary society. The culmination of the so-called sexual liberation of the 1960s, Houellebecq argues, is a society without moral values of any kind … The story, filled with graphic portrayals of sexual excess, is not for the squeamish. But unlike some writers, Houellebecq succeeds in making it seem repellent, chilly, and sad rather than titillating. The dialogue, however, is almost comically awkward: When the brothers get together to talk, they sound as if they are reading aloud from polemical articles. In many ways more manifesto than novel, The Elementary Particles is full of provocative ideas, powerfully expressed. But a great work of literature? Not likely. A book that people should read? Yes.