Rob Doyle is an Irish short story writer and essayist. His novel, Here Are the Young Men, debuts later this year. Taking its name from a Joy Division track, it is, for want of a better description, a coming of age story that depicts the darker side of Dublin. Talking to the Irish Times, Rob described his “strong urge to write about atrocity porn, if you want to call it that; growing up in a culture where you’re assaulted by images of violence.” It’s incendiary stuff, steeped in the literary nihilism of Ellis, Bolaño, Ballard, and, of course, Houellebecq, subject of Rob’s essay for gorse.
A further paradox: by way of a gleeful and brazen disrespect for literature, Houellebecq helps to keep literature respectable, and vital too. His novels are an odd, hybrid phenomenon: a kind of high-brow trash, an intellectual pulp-fiction. They are sleazy, punky, hyperbolic, and sometimes preposterous, yet always of an extreme seriousness. Houellebecq’s insolence – the embodied insult and rebuke that is Michel Houellebecq – infuses even the form of his novels, which brashly announce themselves without concession to novelistic refinement or delicacy. At times, it really seems as if Houellebecq is deliberately doing all the things that are supposed to constitute ‘bad writing’. His characters, often recruited to embody and promulgate the author’s ideological prejudices, launch into improbable, lengthy speeches rather than carry out naturalistic dialogue; his narrators, be they in the first or the third person, do the same. Houellebecq’s prose is thick with unabashed grandiloquence, and portentous utterances that even Martin Amis might blushingly cross out. (One chapter in Atomised, charting the love affair between two characters, actually begins, ‘In the midst of the suicide of the West, it was clear that they had no chance.’)
I like to think that Houellebecq’s incessantly flaunted bad taste is a performative strategy intended to make the point that neither ‘good taste’, nor literature itself in its more polite and respectable guises, have done much to avert our drift into disorder, depletion and meaninglessness. Literature, it is widely felt, is in danger of becoming a nostalgia, a museum-experience for hangers-on to a vanished past, of scant relevance to a stark and addled hypermodernity. Perhaps the only way for writing, for novels, for literature to connect with the new humans is to enact a vigorous, radicalised contempt for itself.
Issue one of gorse is available now.