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Bruno and Michel are half-brothers, born to a hippie mother who believed in following her bliss. As boys they live in ignorance of each other--at one point attending the same school without knowing of their blood connection. As grown men they're not truly close, but they occasionally phone each other late at night. Bruno's a hopeless sexual obsessive, often drunk or on his way there, and Michel's a molecular biologist, distant and inaccessible.

Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles follows these brothers through the latter half of the 20th century. Bruno and Michel are buffeted by history, vessels of disappointment and desire rocked by the ocean of time. Shuttled away to a boarding school where he's sexually abused by other boys, Bruno grows up full of twisted sexual longings and a contempt for aging women so palpable that at times it's stomach-churning. At a commune in the country, Bruno takes stock:

The women were intolerable at breakfast, but by cocktail hour the mystical tarts were hopelessly vying with younger women once again. Death is the great leveler. On Wednesday afternoon he met Catherine, a fifty-year-old who had been a feminist of the old school. She was tanned, with dark curly hair; she must have been very attractive when she was twenty. Her breasts were still in good shape, he thought when he saw her by the pool, but she had a fat ass.
Michel doesn't hate women; he doesn't even notice them. Instead of leering at bodies by the pool, he stares at particles in microscopes. He wins prizes for his experiments, but never experiences the rush of life. For both men, the damage has been done by history, by mother, before the story begins. What interests Houellebecq are the permutations and recapitulations of damage--the way the particles of the self can never be completely reconstituted.--Emily White--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10:  0375727019
ISBN-13:  978-0375727016
Author:  Michel Houellebecq
Publisher:  Vintage
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review by . June 16, 2003
I read this six months ago, and over this period I've kept thinking about this book. One reviewer suggests that you read not Camus but Cordwainer Smith instead--an apt comparison perhaps lost on the existentialist coffeehouse denizens. Like pseudonymous Smith, MH provides stimulating critiques of the status quo via rather overly complicated stories. While in science fiction, where Smith's relegated, such an exchange of thought for sometimes less assured fictional skill is an expected tradeoff for …
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