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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Michel Houellebecq

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To purchase Lanzarote

Title: Lanzarote
Author: Michel Houellebecq
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 87 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Lanzarote - US
Lanzarote - UK
in Lanzarote et autres textes - Canada
Lanzarote - India
in Lanzarote et autres textes - France
Lanzarote - Deutschland
Lanzarote - Italia
Lanzarote - España
  • French title: Lanzarote
  • Translated by Frank Wynne
  • With eight colour photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : small but entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 21/10/2000 Eberhard Rathgeb
The Guardian . 9/8/2003 Philip Horne
New Statesman . 28/7/2003 Jason Cowley
The Spectator . 28/6/2003 Rod Liddle
Sydney Morning Herald . 28/6/2003 Andrew Riemer
The Telegraph . 7/7/2003 Nicholas Blincoe
The Telegraph . 7/7/2003 John Preston
TLS . 25/7/2003 Christopher Tayler
Die Zeit . 1/3/2001 Wolfgang Matz

  Review Consensus:

  Slight but very enjoyable

  From the Reviews:
  • "Michel Houellebecqs Erzählung weist alle Stichworte auf, an denen sich das öffentliche Interesse flackernd entzündet: Samenspende, Biotechnologie, Klonen, Skandal in Belgien, Kindsmißbrauch. Hätte seine Erzählung ein Register, man könnte auf einen Blick hier sehen, daß Houellebecqs Rachezug gegen den Sumpf der Gegenwart, der nicht mit Furor geführt, sondern mit den traurigen Augen eines geschlagenen und verlassenen Kindes betrachtet wird, eine kleine chronique scandaleuse sein möchte. Man braucht, in den trüben Dinosaurieraugen Houellebecqs, nur noch die Länge einer Erzählung, die Größe eines Taschenspiegels für diese vermurkste Welt." - Eberhard Rathgeb, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(I)t has its own perverse appeal. The pretty cover photo, once you get inside, is reduced to dust by a series Houellebecq himself took of the arid volcanic landscapes of Lanzarote -- an island he chose for a reason." - Philip Horne, The Guardian

  • "Lanzarote is a peculiar book. It is not quite an unconventional travelogue, nor is it fiction in any recognisable form. It reads more like random diary observations, or perhaps a long, hastily written e-mail to a close friend, or perhaps even as something that might have been written by Alain de Botton in the immediate aftermath of a long night spent experimenting with alcohol and Viagra (.....) Lanzarote should not be taken too seriously; it is a very minor offering from a great writer whose best work, I fear, is already behind him." - Jason Cowley, New Statesman

  • "This latest work is terrible value for money and little more than a blueprint for last year's brilliant Platform; but all that notwithstanding, you would not wish to miss it. Because what gets forgotten, when people rail against Houellebecq for being a racist, right-wing pornographer or, for that matter, when they rally to his cause -- as I've done in the past -- for being uncannily prescient and an acute observer of human behaviour, is the quite astonishing quality of the writing, and the humour." - Rod Liddle, The Spectator

  • "It's a slight, though fascinating, work of a kind which, with another writer, might never have been translated. (...) Houellebecq uses this almost perfunctory material to display his familiar preoccupations.(...) The same sense of a meaningless life, of the pursuit of unachievable pleasure, suffuses this tale of a depressing holiday. (...) It is nevertheless possible to detect a modicum of hope -- ambiguous and perhaps illusory -- in Houellebecq's writings, which is embodied, in a peculiar way, in Lanzarote." - Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "Lanzarote begins as a travel book. It is only when a pair of "non-exclusive" German lesbians appear that the first signs of fiction -- or wishful thinking - creep into the story. (...) In these later sections, Lanzarote moves from a savage critique of the life of the modern European to imagine a dystopian future world of New Age religion and strange science." - Nicholas Blincoe, The Telegraph

  • "Lanzarote shows off Houellebecq's style and tone very neatly: his vigour; his engaging misanthropy; his apocalyptic fervour; his combativeness; his preoccupation with sex. (...) This is not simply an account of a holiday; it's about people blindly pursuing hedonism while the earth threatens literally to split apart beneath them. We are, Houellebecq is saying, so lulled by pleasure, so consumed by appetite, that we're too groggy to notice that rationality is breaking down and things are falling apart at the seams. At least I think that's what he's saying. And even if I'm not entirely sure, I enjoyed it enormously, whistling through it in under an hour, laughing a good deal, delighting in Houllebecq's grouchy company and feeling as energised and light-headed at the end as if I'd knocked back several Matador Surprises." - John Preston, The Telegraph

  • "Lanzarote has 87 pages and costs Pounds 9.99. It is also tremendously enjoyable to read. The narrator's misanthropic, flamboyantly alienated persona has clearly been devised specifically to annoy French intellectuals, but it works pretty well in English, too, and the occasional stilted patch of translationese lends an extra-dry flavour to his more absurd pronouncements. At the same time, though, there are hints here and there that there's more going on than straight-forward provocation." - Christopher Tayler, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Michel Houellebecq jedenfalls hat ein wenig Urlaub genommen vom apokalyptischen Schwergewicht seiner Romane, und keiner sollte ihm das verdenken." - Wolfgang Matz, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lanzarote is a compact little novella which has it all. All of Michel Houellebecq's usual concerns and areas of interest, that is: the protagonist fed up with and disappointed by contemporary civilisation, the exotic foreign locale, the nutty cult, contemporary tourist-culture, cloning and other age-defying attempts, the sex.
       The end of the millennium approaches and the narrator isn't looking forward to New Year. He decides to go on a trip. He's open to most anything -- as long as it's not a Muslim country -- and he lets himself be talked into Lanzarote, on the Canary Islands. This desolate landscape (most of the eight colour photographs included with the text look like they could have been taken on the moon or Mars) attracts a "nebulous variety of tourists", and it's as good a place as any for him.
       The narrator isn't too brooding; rather, he's more off-handed in his commentary and observations. Not much happens (or, one suspects, can happen) on this island, but he does make the acquaintance of a dreary Belgian police inspector (whose Moroccan wife left him and took the kids) -- thrilled just to find he's not reviled --, as well as two German lesbians (who, of course, turn out to be open to a bit more as well ...). There's some sight-seeing, some frolicking on the beach, some sex-play.
       Then there are also the Azraelians, a cult that believes humans were created in a laboratory by an alien (i.e. outer space) race, the Anakim. (The Azraelian religion reappears in The Possibility of an Island -- there as the 'Elohimite Church' -- and both are, of course, modeled on the real-life Raëlians.) Someone converts and joins the gang -- and the story continues after the Lanzarote-adventures, when the Azraelians have found themselves involved in an unpleasant and highly publicized sex-trial.
       Lanzarote is an odd little exotic-trip account. In part a practise run for The Possibility of an Island, Houellebecq wastes few words here, the story over almost in a flash. As much meditation on life -- ennui-filled, lacking purpose and direction even as a new millennium has dawned -- as any sort of story, it doesn't get too bogged down in detail. Houellebecq flings out all his usual concerns, but he doesn't harp on them: sure, he puts down the Islamic religion, but he doesn't batter it as relentlessly as elsewhere in his fictions; sure, there's some sex, but he gets it over and done with fairly efficiently.
       Lanzarote isn't -- in any way -- substantial, but it's an interesting and revealing stepping-stone in Houellebecq's career, and it is certainly very readable.

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Lanzarote: Reviews: Michel Houellebecq: Other books by Michel Houellebecq under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of French literature at the complete review
  • See Index of Travel-related books

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About the Author:

       French author Michel Houellebecq was born in 1958.

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