This is a review of Submission (originally Soumission in French), written by Michel Houellebecq and translated by Lorin Stein. I originally wrote this review on May 2, 2020 immediately after reading the book, when it was posted to Goodreads.
First of all, I think this book was surprisingly captivating, almost always readable despite a bit of slow going through some of the passages filled with names in French literature I was unfamiliar with.
As for the controversial bits, I think they were actually handled reasonably if one keeps in mind that it’s a work of fiction, set in a fictional France, and that not everything can or should be taken as a comment on present-day society. The anti-secularization of French politics felt like a recurring theme that had a clear purpose, not just thrown in to stir controversies, as a good amount of the book surrounds the narrator’s own religious and philosophical ambivalence in this political and social atmosphere that is being changed from multiple directions. I think Houellebecq is able to delve into a unique idea that, while certainly associated with certain political tendencies, is explored roundly enough from multiple perspectives to avoid falling into the trap of feeling hasty, uniformed, or lacking in foresight.
This novel idea, combined with sufficient character development to drive the plot, makes for what I found to be a compelling read.