History: This book was published in 1994 in France titled as Extension du domaine de la lutte (literal English translation: 'broadening the field of struggle'; published in English as Whatever) and is the debut novel of French writer, Michel Houellebecq. Although this word does not relate to the original French title, it connects to the protagonist's defeatist view of life. The struggle of the original title is expressly associated with class struggle in a parody of slogans made popular by the Parisian student movement of 1968, which Our Hero extends to sexual, as well as economic antagonism.
Plot: The protagonist (Harel), known only as "Our Hero" during the entirety of the story, lives a solitary life, and has not had sex for over two years. Within most of the book and film versions of Extension du domaine de la lutte, Our Hero draws on recollections of Schopenhauer and Kant to lambaste the commodification of human contact, punctuating his inner monologue with bouts of nausea and onanism. He is wracked by the implications of decisions that would seem minor to the average person, such as disclosing his lack of a sex life through the purchase of a single bed. He is teamed up with a disturbing, desperate 28-year-old virgin, Raphael Tisserand, to deliver a series of seminars on the use of IT. Raphael looks up to Our Hero for ever having been able to hold down a relationship, and listens to his musings on love with tragic, but ultimately inspirational consequences.
Review: The unnamed narrator of Houellebecq's novel is Marcuse's one-dimensional man. A single, 30-year-old computer engineer in Paris with no sex life, he suffers from a chronic passivity that, in Houellebecq's view, is characteristic of Generation X. He buys, but doesn't take joy in any of the things he possesses. He has acquaintances, but no friends. In his off hours he writes dialogues featuring an assortment of barnyard animals. When his company sends him and a colleague, Bernard, out to Rouen and La Roche-sur-Yon to consult on software, nothing much gets done. In Rouen he suffers from heart problems. Since Bernard visits him in the hospital, a bond develops between them. Bernard, cursed with a repulsive appearance and a horny disposition, makes obnoxious advances to every woman he sees and is predictably rejected. Sexual deprivation is the atmosphere in which these men exist. That both men see women only in terms of their sexual features makes their impotence even more pathetic. After breaking up with his last girlfriend two years ago, the narrator has withdrawn from the romantic arena. And yet he has developed an intricate and mean-spirited, if ill-defined, theory of sexual hierarchy. The loose narrative condenses to an action sequence when the narrator tries to get Bernard to murder a woman with a steak knife, but the incident is gratuitous. In the end, Houellebecq displays none of the novelist's eye for detail and, further, defaults on the development of a vital main character, who might have connected this series of threadbare incidents into an interesting social comment. FYI: A bestseller in France, this novel won the 1995 Prix Flore for best first novel.
Opening Line: “Friday evening I was invited to a party at a colleague from work’s house.”
Closing Line: “It is two in the afternoon.”
Quotes: “...beds last on an average much longer than marriages...”
Rating: Didn’t Understand it.