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French Novelist Houellebecq Goes Missing, Dutch Publisher Says

Michel Houellebecq
French novelist Michel Houellebecq failed to show up for a scheduled reading tour of the Netherlands and Belgium, and cannot be reached by his publishers. Photographer: Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images

Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Michel Houellebecq, the French writer whose novels address sex tourism, sado-masochism and cloning, failed to show up for a scheduled reading tour of the Netherlands and Belgium and cannot be reached by his publishers.

“We really don’t know what is happening,” said Barbara Simons, a spokeswoman for Het Beschrijf, the literary organization that arranged the tour. “It’s bizarre. There has been no news and he hasn’t arrived.”

Simons said neither Houellebecq’s French publisher, nor his agent, nor his translator knows where the 53-year-old writer is. Houellebecq, who won France’s most prestigious literary prize last year, lives a reclusive life in southern Spain, according to Het Beschrijf.

His trademarks are dark humor, biting social criticism, frequent philosophical allusions and a bleak vision of human relationships. Viewed as a prophet and genius by some, Houellebecq has been accused by others of misogyny, inciting racial hatred, moral bankruptcy and pornography.

He was scheduled to read from “La Carte et le Territoire,” the book for which he won the 2010 Prix Goncourt, on the occasion of its translation into Dutch. Readings were planned from Sept. 12 to Sept. 15 in Amsterdam, The Hague, and Brussels.

“The Map and the Territory” in English, the new novel is the story of an artist called Jed Martin who falls for a beautiful Russian named Olga, gains success with his portraits, and becomes entangled in a police investigation.

Psychotic Depression

Houellebecq’s first novel, which critics said may have been semi-autobiographical, dealt with psychotic depression. The author suffered a long period of unemployment and depression in the 1980s, according to a biography on a website compiled by fans of the author.

In “Atomised,” his second, he took on the themes of sex addiction and molecular biology. “The Possibility of an Island,” published in 2005, is a science-fiction satire that encompasses cloning and Schopenhauer, while “Platform” deals with sex tourism, terrorism and prostitution.

He cites Baudelaire, Aldous Huxley, Kant, Thomas Mann and Bret Easton Ellis among his influences, while he has written a biography of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.

A spokeswoman for Houellebecq’s French publisher, Flammarion Groupe in Paris, today said that she was not informed of the situation and couldn't comment.

Piet Joostens, who organized the readings, said he was not aware that anyone had reported Houellebecq’s absence to the police.

“I wouldn’t panic yet,” he said. “We have no concrete evidence that he is a missing person. Of course we are worried. It has happened before that he doesn’t answer e-mails, but it is rare for him not to show up to meet his public.”

To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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