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Michel Houellebecq’s Serotonin is a caustic, frightening, hilarious, raunchy, offensive, and politically incorrect novel about the decline of Europe, Western civilization, and humanity in general.
Deeply depressed by his romantic and professional failures, the aging hedonist and agricultural engineer Florent-Claude Labrouste feels he is “dying of sadness.” He hates his young girlfriend, and the feeling is almost certainly mutual; his career is pretty much over; and he has to keep himself thoroughly medicated to cope with day-to-day life.
Suffocating in the rampant loneliness, consumerism, hedonism, and sprawl of the city, Labrouste decides to head for the hills, returning to Normandy, where he once worked promoting regional cheeses and where he was once in love, and even—it now seems—happy. There he finds a countryside devastated by globalization and by European agricultural policies, and encounters farmers longing, like Labrouste himself, for an impossible return to a simpler age.
As the farmers prepare for what might be an armed insurrection, it becomes clear that the health of one miserable body and of a suffering body politic are not so different, and that all parties may be rushing toward a catastrophe that a whole drugstore’s worth of antidepressants won’t make bearable.
"The chemical serotonin famously produces feelings of happiness and well-being in humans—not, on the whole, something that can be said of the work of Michel Houellebecq, France’s most successful literary export. Sure enough, despite its title, his latest novel is another spectacularly pessimistic meditation on the simultaneous decline of a male narrator and of western civilisation in general. Not many readers will necessarily embrace Houellebecq’s world view... That, I would firmly suggest, is beside the point." —James Walton, The Times
"[Serotonin] is engrossing; it is cartoonishly violent; it is profane; it is perverse . . . It is cloaked in the garment of melancholy that puts one in mind of walking for hours in a drenched hoodie after an autumn downpour." —Christian Lorentzen, BookForum
"From the opening of Serotonin it is clear that we are in safe Houellebecqian hands . . . Houellebecq writes with such facility and humour that it can look easy. Yet how many other novelists can make you moan, laugh and keep reading like he does? He deserves his reputation as the novelist who most understands our age, most reviles it, and may well come to represent it best." —Douglas Murray, The Spectator
"This most prescient of novelists—who foresaw Islamist terror in holiday resorts in Muslim countries in Platform (2001), and envisaged Islamic government in France in Submission (2015), just before the Charlie Hebdo attacks—is addressing directly the discontents of rural France underpinning the Gilets Jaunes movement. No novel has been more pertinent this year . . . Houellebecq has always been shamelessly clear about love and sex, and the chances of any long-lived happiness in a society in which youth and desirability are traded in a free market." —David Sexton, The Evening Standard
"Any new book by Houellebecq is guaranteed to make waves, and Serotonin is no exception . . . A bleak, uncompromising novel. But it also feels like an important one, asking some necessary questions in characteristically mordant fashion." —Max Davidson, The Mail on Sunday
"Serotonin challenges its readers to soften their hearts toward those among us who are refused official pity — the sorts of people, dairy farmers, gilets jaunes, and lonely white quadragenarian men included, who seem less likely to evoke compassion in the present political climate. Like all of Houellebecq’s work, Serotonin is, at times, hilarious, sexually graphic, and shockingly irreverent. But it is also a novel of moral seriousness, daring us to increase our compassion in proportion to the seeming loathsomeness of those to whom it is owed." —Louis Betty, Los Angeles Review of Books