No question about the book of the year: it’s Michel Houellebecq’s Submission (Heinemann, £18.99) in Lorin Stein’s fluent translation. It’s France, 2022, when a moderate Muslim Brotherhood government takes charge. While the narrator submits to the new low-key Islamic regime, the liberal left collapses for want of coherence before an ideology intent on winning the battle of ideas through demography. ‘To them it’s simple — whichever segment of the population has the highest birthrate and does the best job of transmitting its values, wins.’
Following its publication, the Guardian asked brightly: ‘Does Houellebecq really hate women and Muslims, or is he just a twisted provocateur?’ But the book is more nuanced and more troubling than that. The narrator doesn’t register women who aren’t young and shaggable — tell me that’s not how men see women — and in this story, it’s libidinous intellectuals who succumb to the new order because it suits them. Plausible? Sort of. Worrying? Yep. Important? Very.