Review: Submission


by Michel Houellebecq

Genre: dystopia, satire, politics

Read: 20th January 2017

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star 4


In a near-future France, François, a middle-aged academic, is watching his life slowly dwindle to nothing. His sex drive is diminished, his parents are dead, and his lifelong obsession – the ideas and works of the nineteenth-century novelist and pessimist Joris-Karl Huysmans – has led him nowhere. In a late-capitalist society where consumerism has become the new religion, François is spiritually barren, but seeking to fill the vacuum of his existence with something.

And he is not alone. As the 2022 Presidential election approaches, two candidates emerge as favourites: Marine Le Pen of the Front National, and Muhammed Ben Abbes of the nascent Muslim Fraternity. Forming a controversial alliance with the mainstream parties, Ben Abbes sweeps to power, and overnight the country is transformed. Islamic law comes into force: women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged and, for François, life is set on a new course.

Submission is both a devastating satire and a profound and painfully sharp meditation on isolation, faith and love. It is a startling new work by one of the most provocative and prescient novelists of today.


This is a great satire of the usual complacent European academic, who considers himself wordly and educated, but who knows little about politics or religion, and even less about the values and norms that constitute his own culture. No wonder then that the sudden takeover of France by a muslim political party takes him by surprise even though the warning signs are all there. His own Jewish girlfriend warns him what is happening, but he doesn’t wake up even when she moves to Israel with her family for safety (since rampant antisemitism has made life hell for Jews in France). Not even the realisation that he has no Israel to flee to makes him really think about the state of his own country.

Not that the muslim takeover affects him very much – he gets a nice settlement for the loss of his job at the university (since everyone not muslim is booted out of the public sector), and then gets recruited by another oportunistic convert allied with the new leaders of France. He gets the opportunity to convert and get all the perks a top dog in islam can get – money, prestige, and three young nubile wives. Of course his own lack of a moral centre and grasp of culture makes the submission very palatable. He has no concern for women’s rights or rights of religious minorities… it’s all about him and his own enjoyment. In a way he follows the individualism that is promoted in western culture, but he disregards the obligations that come with the freedom he enjoyed before.

The authors shows us where this negation of, or even just confusion about what constitutes european culture, leads to when confronted with people who are unashamed of promoting their own culture (even if it is a very bad one for women). Not that the top of the society is at all pious – they drink, whore, steal, and intimidate, but to the public they pretend to be the pillars of morality.

I only miss the female voices since they are the ones most affected by the tyrany of radical islam.


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