It took me a few months to get around to read this book and another few months to gather my thoughts and figure about what/if I wanted to say about it. The fact that Houellebecq was on the cover of the magazine Charlie Hebdo when his book launched was obviously no coincident and a total coincident. The fact that this book and his persona are both entangled in the story he is writing and transcending it makes this a book difficult and very interesting to approach. The possibilities to upset people when discussing the book is almost guaranteed.
One part of me want to just focus on the way he approaches a situation and deconstructs it in a playful way while he constantly keeps pulling you out of the magic with trivia and poses. It is a perfect example of a book that not only has many levels, but a book that also moves between these levels in a way that you often makes you feel as if you are in the middle of an Escher painting; never knowing if you are in a reality, or an illusion, or of the distinction is meaningless.
The book could easily be seen as a critique of "political" academics who can't see beyond their esoteric subjects, in this case by using the reflection of today’s academic life through the lens of Joris-Karl Huysmans. Even easier it could be seen as a critique of our current politicians who have no vision beyond survival. We get a mirror reflecting back so many of the inconsistencies in western societies, and France in particular, that we lose our original vantage point; as you do when you close to mirrors and see the number of reflections move towards infinity. If anything provides a safe haven and stability it is the moderate Muslim, Ben Abbes, who bring some vision and passion to politics.
The book obviously include some of Houellebecq's standard provocations, but I think Houellebecq has found a way to use them to guide us though difficult passages in the Escher maze.
The role of religion as a potential provider of a deeper meaning in society is a very interesting theme of the book. We get a secular France of today contrasted with a culture that might not be very religious in the spiritual sense, but the practical and passionate sense.
In parts it is almost as if Houellebecq is asking his fellow Frenchmen if they realize that the dream they have for a glorious France can only be found 100 years ago with a strong role for Catholicism, or today with Islam…
As with all Houellebecq's books the beauty of it is that it is impossible to know when the author is just provocative, when he is just holding up a mirror, when he is making a political/ethical point (the last something I guess he will never admit doing, and that makes the books so much more powerful), and when we are just getting lost in the maze.
I don't think the book is as challenging, or as beautiful written, as some of his earlier books. But it is perhaps the book that is most coherent and “mature” in the positive sense of the word.
As I still feel insecure about what aspects I really want to discuss in the book I would like to recommend this text by Elif Batuman. It covers some of the aspects that I have not discussed in this text and her beautiful writing is not just a contrast to this text, it was actually the first text that I thought approached Submission in a way that added to the book with the kind of honesty that you tend to long for after reading Houellebecq.