July 17, 2013
Michel Houellebecq stars in a movie about Michel Houellebecq
by Sal Robinson
Oh, Michel Houellebecq. First, he disappears from his own book tour for The Map and the Territory in the Netherlands, and no one can reach him and no one knows what is going on. Then he reappears, claiming that he’d just forgotten about it all and didn’t have phone or email access. And now, he’s starring in a movie about it, called “L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq” (“The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq”). The man’s daffy solipsism, in other words, knows no bounds.
The movie in question is being directed by Guillaume Nicloux, whose last movie was based on a Diderot novel about a nun, and it will address the events of that fatal week, during which, it sounds like, Houellebecq sat around his house in his socks eating morcilla and wondering why he felt like he had to be somewhere. Fans on social media, however, immediately assumed the worst, suggesting that he’d been captured by Al Qaeda, possibly for his comments about Islam—a rumor that was then picked up by news website Rue89.
As Sam Lipsyte has discovered, the truth about the Houellebecq is usually not that he’s been kidnapped or he’s holed up with hookers or he’s the one running the Zetas now. When Lipsyte tailed Houellebecq around California for the Believer in 2006, he got intrigued by the author’s interest in Scotch tape:
We pass an OfficeMax and I make a dumb joke about that being the biggest leather bar of all. Houellebecq’s eyes light up but not for any obviously pervy reason. No, like many writers, yours truly included, stationery has a nearly pornographic appeal, and besides, he appears to possess a Frenchman’s revulsion/attraction to big-box retail. We pull over and head into the store. He assures me he’s an “efficient consumer” and once inside he does seem to know exactly what he needs: erasers, folders and, most intriguingly, Scotch tape. It’s this final purchase and an earlier comment about how he planned to work in his room tomorrow that sets my mind racing. What’s the Scotch tape for? What’s he working on in his room? A collage? I’ve been on book tours before, and even bought stationery in foreign cities, but never Scotch tape. That must be the genius of Houellebecq.
Only to discover that Houellebecq was using the tape to fasten the loose caps on his pill bottles.
Since we don’t know anything about the plot of “L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq” so far, however, it seems fair to speculate wildly: maybe it’ll feature a fictional character named Houellebecq, played by Houellebecq, writing a novel about the kidnapping of a famous French writer by Al Qaeda? Which is then interrupted by an actual kidnapping? Maybe it’ll be a metaphorical kidnapping, in which a famous French writer goes to the Netherlands and is so entranced by late Rembrandt that he forgets to go to all his readings? Maybe it’ll be a modern-day re-working of “The Ransom of Red Chief” in which a French director making a movie about a French writer is so irritated by his subject that he abandons the movie midway through?
Recent comments by Nicloux, however, suggest that the movie will both hew closely to the truth, and that the truth is going to make us drop our Scotch tape in astonishment: an article by Angelique Chrisafis in the Guardian has him promising that the “truth goes well beyond fiction.”
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.