The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houellebecq

Unconditional love can come only from a dog
Click to follow

Sad to say, mostly the latter. The Possibility of an Island is narrated partly by Daniel, an embittered observational comedian whose reputation as a "hero of free speech" rests on bilious sketches called things like "We Prefer the Palestinian Orgy Sluts", and partly by two clones of himself thousands of years in the future. Surrounded by desolation, the "neohuman"' clones attempt to pick through the testaments of their predecessors "for the edification of the Future Ones".

The present-day Daniel is a pretty joyless fellow. He finds brief happiness with Isabelle, the publisher of a magazine called Lolita, who loves him but doesn't love sex. After she kills herself (women always end badly in Houellebecq) he has his heart stamped on by Esther, a nubile actress who loves sex but doesn't love him. Unconditional love, he maintains at great length, can come only from a dog.

In between the women, he falls in with the Elohimites, a sect of sun-worshipping alien-watchers based on Lanzarote. This is a thinly veiled portrait of the Raelian order, with which Houellebecq spent some time a few years ago - right down to an unflattering portrayal of its seedy chief prophet from Clermont-Ferrand. The Elohimites offer Daniel the chance to have his DNA stored for future cloning projects, to which he and his dog eagerly agree: hence Daniel's future self, his 6,174 clone companions and his clone-corgi.

At the end of Atomised, Houellebecq gave us a couple of final chapters describing the human race evolving into "a species which was asexual and immortal... which had outgrown individuality, individuation and progress": here, he dishes up a whole book of it. The dusting of hard science that was little more than plot thickener to the previous novel becomes a dense film in this one. Elsewhere, he simply drags out the tropes on which he has traded for years: male desolation, salvatory blowjobs, general death of love, etc.

In both this book and its predecessor Platform there are passages of irresistible black humour, savage condemnation and genuine (and surprising) sentiment. But devotees of the old Houellebecq will have to wait for yet another book to see whether he will tire of ploughing the same furrow, or whether this supremely talented writer really intends to become just a clone of himself.