Published: January 2012
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Writing his 1967 essay "The Death of the Author," Roland Barthes didn't imagine anything like the scene that comes two-thirds into Michel Houellebecq's fifth and latest novel, The Map and the Territory, which appeared in English last week. There we read in grisly detail about the murder and dismemberment of a character named and modeled after Houellebecq. Where Barthes wished to banish authorial biography and intention from literary criticism, Houellebecq's presence is unmistakable. Besides appearing as a character blessed with some of the book's best dialogue, the narrator's style is almost sarcastically flat, emphasizing words and phrases by simply putting them in italics, constantly reminding the reader of his authorial voice.