Any minute now Michel Houellebecq, the bad boy of French literature, is going to do something very, very bad. It’s true I’ve been on the road with him all week and his behavior has been impeccable, but something’s got to give. There’s too much history. What about his purported obsession with sex clubs and prostitutes? What about his penchant for hitting on female journalists, explaining that only one night with him will guarantee the real story? What about the time he called Islam “the stupidest religion”? Surely, the man’s going to bust out with something reprehensible, and now, in his smoke-filled semi-suite at the Bel Age in L.A., is as good a time as any. He flies back to Europe tomorrow.
Houellebecq, forty-eight, is a slight man, fragile-seeming, handsome in his way. There’s a boyish gleam to him that calls to mind that terrible disease where children age rapidly. I have to stop and remind myself that he’s just a forty-eight-year-old man. Right now he slouches in a swivel chair while a woman he’s met tonight, a well-known book critic, kneels before him. They speak in low tones about the possibility of love in a loveless universe, or something like that. I’m sitting on a sofa with a few other people drinking beer and whiskey and waiting for the bad thing. Maybe he’ll denounce Allah while pissing on a Gideon Bible, assuming the Bel Age provides them. Maybe he’ll curl up on the sofa and weep and curse liberal democracy. Maybe he’ll demand the lot of us blow him. Maybe he’ll do all of these things, but I doubt it. He’s been a perfect gentleman since San Francisco. A sleepy gentleman, at that.
Still, I can’t leave. I might miss something major. What if he orders up racist transsexual escorts to fist him while he questions the validity of monotheism? There’s another journalist in the room, Brendan Bernhard from the LA Weekly, and I can’t leave him here to witness any badness without me. Brendan wants to go home, too, but it’s a stalemate, a sad case of prurient brinkmanship. So we wait here in the not-so-enfant terrible’s room and watch him get wooed by the kneeling book critic and we crack some jokes with Sylvie, the French cultural attaché (who also wants to go home) and wait some more. Any minute now…
An excerpt from Sam Lipsyte’s essay on spending time with the quasi-nihilistic French novelist, Michel Houellebecq (October 2006).