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Report from the Book Group – June 2020

By Mary Sawyer

Nothing can deter the Cathedral’s Book Group members. On 1 June nine members met on Zoom to discuss Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 novel, ‘Submission’, which proved to be a controversial but stimulating choice. There were certainly those of us who had never heard of Houellebecq, even though he has been described as France’s greatest living writer and although he has prompted fervent reaction from both admirers and detractors. Submission is set in a 2022 in which a Muslim-led coalition defeats Marine Le Pen’s far right party in the French elections. The story is seen through the eyes of a disillusioned academic whose special study is of the late nineteenth century writer Huysman. Huysman himself provoked controversy by his attitudes to sexuality and to the role of faith in modern society.

Some members feared that Submission would be purely Islamophobic, and this remained an issue, but the book provoked a far stronger reaction to the attitude of its non-Muslim characters to women and young girls – expressed long before the new government took over – and also to the value-less ethos of the intelligentia. Yet the book had very funny passages and vivid writing, and at least one member intends to re-read the book and to follow up the nineteenth century references. The book also raises very important questions about whether a society can survive without a basis in faith, questions which we didn’t have time really to examine, but which members will continue to ponder.

So altogether a very stimulating read and an enjoyable evening with friends, which was a great escape from Covid-19. If you would like to join us on Zoom on 20 July at 7.30pm, we shall be discussing Douglas Smith’s ‘The Former People’, a venture into non-fiction and the post-revolutionary Soviet Union.

Please let Canon Jane know if you would like to take part.