Anéantir will soon appear in an English translation, which is great because it’s a very good book. What I particularly like is that you can read it in 3 different ways:
1. As a straightforward story of a man who lived his whole life in a sterile, lonely jail of liberal beliefs and then suddenly discovered that it’s in the conservative values that you can find life, love, and happiness. But he discovered it when it was already too late.
2. As a metaphor for France or the Western civilization experiencing an agony before it dies forever. Paul symbolized France, and his greatest horror is to lose his capacity to speak. The descriptions of Paul’s agony are very heavy but whoever heard of cute, pleasant agony?
3. As part of Houellebecq’s journey as an author that has reached a new and different stage. His characters always search for meaning, and the protagonist of Anéantir actually finds it where he never expected to do so.
The website for the paper version of the book says it’s 700 pages. I have to tell you, though, it didn’t feel like anything that long. It reads very easily in spite of the subject matter getting extremely heavy in the last third. But it’s real literature. And moreover, it’s real French literature, with a lot of sex, cheese, and musings about the meaning of the French revolution.