A review of Serotonin: A Novel, by Michel Houellebecq (translated by Shaun Whiteside). (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pages, $27)

Suicide in the West

It is almost a moral imperative to read any book Salem-ed by the types that shamble across the pages and pixels of The Guardian. You just have to.

French novelist Michel Houellebecq, l’enfant terrible, returns with a treatise which The Guardian describes as the last cry of the pitiful white male.  

He has form. Houellebecq’s Submission was decried in similarly reflexive terms. His prescience almost cliché. The still-warm, cadaverous Houellebecq: modern soothsayer.

His latest novel, Serotonin, follows the chronically depressed Florent-Claude Labrouste, 46, as he sacks his soulless job at the Ministry of Agriculture and transcends into an indulgent slow-burn suicide.

He’s drugged. (Like most of us.) A new antidepressant named Captorix taints his blood and deadens his libido. 

Unlike that of his detested girlfriend Yuzu, who,  20-years his junior, will not sap her own sexual ferocity. Without spoiling it, Florent digs through his girl’s laptop and discover her extra fidelities seam into (don’t read this book on public transport, or near other humans) frenzied orgies, and canines. 

A welcomed discovery. Florent hates her and her 18 skin lotions. He has just inherited $800,000 from his suicide-pact parents. 

Rambling across a France viced in decline, he lands in Normandy, where his old college friend, Aymeric, struggles to keep his aristocratic history alive on a declining milk farm deadened by the European Union’s cut in milk quotas. 

Aymeric drains his time selling off his ancestral lands to Chinese speculators, and drinking neat vodka. His wife ran off with a pianist. He’s alive in the medical sense; crushed by cheap overseas milk. 

At this point, Aymeric and the beleaguered farmers have surged into militancy. They’re forced into a zero-sum game of global capitalism they have no chance of even surviving. It’s hopeless.

When his old friend asks for his ruthless opinion, Florent tells him the truth: It’s fucked.

French farmers, we learn, are killing themselves “one by one, on their plots of land, without being noticed,” as the globalized Moloch erodes their history, their meaning, into spreadsheet figures. They’re “inefficient.” 

Much like the proles of Appalachia. The ex-steelworkers of Youngstown. Of heartland America. Trump country. And Brexitville.

Those forgotten people. They whose plight is undeserved of pity. Learn to code. 

That blithe disregard is afforded to Houellebecq’s biting depiction of a sanitized corporate landscape of which the many are entombed. Progressives donate nothing in the way of their endless compassion for those trampled by rampant globalism.

Florent should be like them. Educated, cultured. Yet, perhaps tellingly, he finds himself deadened at their service.  His doctor says his cortisol levels are of such a profound level, he, Florent, is “dying of sorrow.” 

He prescribes a course of prostitutes. The most vivifying kind, he suggests, are 16-years-old and found in Thailand. 

But Florent is already dead. And his part in the globalist project killed him. Its pursuit of unending efficiency. A money-machine whose bulimic charge of progress cares not for such blood-beating trifles as nationhood, community, history, or meaning. 

The same creed which promised yet plundered. The same creed which raped the Rust Belt, dosed and fed survivors into Fentanyl’s slow death. And blamed them for their semi-sentient oblivion. 

What ails the farmers of Serotonin is the same despair which overdosed 64,000 Americans in 2016. 

Deaths of despair—booze, drugs, and suicide—claim the lives of thousands of middle-aged men. And rightly served as a genuine puzzlement to researchers’ resident in the richest nation on earth.  

The sheer volume of deaths snipped, in 2016, American life expectancy

This, in an America where the citizens refuse to replace themselves. Sadly, the same anti-human protest simmers here in Europe

But, that, dear reader, is progress. 

One third of young people beset with anxiety disorders is progress. Florent’s method of annihilation—suicide—and its glacial cousins—booze, and drugs, are now one of the leading killers. That is progress. 

Like the novel’s farmers, we too have learned that the unbendable forces of globalization are not inevitable. Such wanton destruction is policy. A choice. Made by those who benefit most.

Like Aymeric, we must accept the will of the market. That angry God demanding of economic sacrifice.

But Aymeric, like Trump voters, like Brexiteers, is not too keen to die on his knees in thrall to a past he knew to be decent. 

He arms up. Surrounded by television cameras, and the heavily-armed gendarmerie, he takes into his own hands the only autonomy he has left. He pumps a bullet through it.

Florent’s own descent is marked by a burgeoning waist, and authentically deadening reminisces over a lost love—her name is Camille. 

A woman which one Guardian review chimed would never have loved Florent, whom the reviewer casts as Houellebecq himself.

Perhaps she read a recent essay in Harper’s. Houellebecq, who deplores the “appalling clown” president, then finds common ground. The final two words being of particular illumination:

What’s most remarkable about the new American policies is certainly the country’s position on trade, and there Trump has been like a healthy breath of fresh air; you’ve really done well to elect a president with origins in what is called “civil society.”

Because, like President Trump, Houellebecq is a member of the untouchables, a caste of dissidents capable of independent thought. 

Thoughts which tend to settle upon realization that globalism has been an unutterable disaster for everyone except the elite, and their coat-tailers—those who parrot The Guardian.

What they never ask themselves is why Florent, and millions of men, of all skin tones, find the rope or the pistol preferable. Do they really need to ask?

About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist.

Photo: Fine Art Images/Getty Images

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