The Elementary Particles is a novel in French by Michel Houellebecq, published in 1998. The English translation by Frank Wynne was published in 2000, and released in the UK as Atomised, elsewhere as The Elementary Particles, and is regarded as a brilliant literary and intellectual novel. Houellebecq was awarded the prestigious French literary award, the Prix Novembre, and the 2002 Impac Dublin literary award. The reviewer for the NY Times called it "a deeply repugnant read" for its nihilism and anti-humanistic vision. Others have criticized its obsessive and graphic depiction of sexuality. It supporters praise its flamboyant deconstruction of modern beliefs about love and sexual liberation as pretensions and delusions in a culture of selfishness.
Houellebecq presents himself as wounded in childhood, having been abandoned by both parents. He had an unsatisfying career before becoming a writer, and his personal life seems to be marked by anger, alienation and lewd and offensive behaviour. His fans regard him as a tragic wounded poet, and his critics as a boor and a poser. Even in translation, it is clear that he is a powerful writer. The characters of this novel, although they are bound to his intellectual arguments, are generally convincing—distinctive, credible voices. They are wounded, self-absorbed, people, trying to find the happiness that they think they are entitled to.
The story is told in the detached voice of a future historician and biographer, writing about the late 20th century, presented as the biography of Michel Djerzinski, a molecular biologist, and a philosopher responsible for a metaphysical mutation, which is defined as a large scale change in social values. In the biographer's epilogue, Djerzinski is given credit for scientific and ideological breakthroughs leading to wide acceptance of genetic engineering to make people happier by removing sex and death from the genome. We don't see this Brave New World, except in a few comments in the Prologue and Epilogue chapters. The fiction of a future society allows Houellebecq to write a cultural history of the sexually liberated young adults of the 1960's, and their children.
Michel Djerzinski was neglected by his mother Janine, a flower child, as a baby. His father, a rather detached figure, rescues him and gives him to his grandmother to raise before, literally, disappearing. He becomes a dreamy, withdrawn child who and an emotionally sterile man, occupied with scientific and mathematical ideas. His understanding of social relations is mathematical. In one passage he attempts to understand free will as a property of Hilbert spaces. As such he is more of a symbol of rationalism than a character. His half-brother Bruno is a teacher, an aspiring writer, a literary intellectual, and a sex-crazed hound. He is a more interesting character, and a symbol of other central human interests.