He described Covid-19 as a "banal virus" with "no redeeming qualities... It's not even sexually transmitted.". PHOTO: AFP

World will be same but worse after 'banal' virus: French writer

He describes Covid-19 as a 'banal virus' with 'no redeeming qualities... It's not even sexually transmitted'

Afp May 04, 2020
Controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq said on Monday that he believes the world will be just the same after the coronavirus - only worse.

The novelist, seen by his fans as a modern prophet of a nihilistic, individualistic age, poured cold water on those who see the pandemic as a possible turning point.

"I do not believe for a half-second the declarations that 'nothing will be like it was before'," said Houellebecq who rose to international fame through his 1998 novel "Atomised".

"We will not wake up after the lockdown in a new world. It will be the same, just a bit worse," he said in an essay for French public radio.

"The way this epidemic has panned out is remarkably normal," he argued.

He described Covid-19 as a "banal virus" with "no redeeming qualities... It's not even sexually transmitted."

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But he warned that the self-distancing and "home-working that the epidemic has brought" would accelerate the technological push to isolate and atomise people.

It was a great excuse, he said, to push further the "obsolescence of human relationships".

Yet he ridiculed writers who had compared the moment to his apocalyptic 2005 novel, "The Possibility of an Island", when the human race is on its last legs.

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"The West has not the eternal divine right to be the richest and most developed zone in the world.

"It is no scoop to say that, it has been all over for a long time," said the novelist, who is married to Qianyun Lysis Li, a Chinese student of his work 34 years his junior.

Even the death toll reflected the world as we have known it, he claimed.

"France is coming out of it better than Spain and Italy but not as well as Germany. No big surprise there."

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Houellecq also poked fun at a string of French literary stars for pronouncing on the crisis from the comfort of their country or seaside retreats, without clarifying if he had remained holed up himself in his home in a Paris tower block.

He did, however, complain of not being able to go for walks further than a kilometre from his front door under strict French lockdown rules.

Clearly it was taking its toll on a man who despite skewering the pretensions of his homeland in a string of books was given France's top honour, the Legion d'honneur, last year.

"A writer needs to walk," said Houellebecq, who as a 64-year-old male heavy smoker, is in one of the most at-risk groups from the virus.

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"Trying to write if you have no possibility of walking for a few hours at a brisk pace is extremely unadvisable," he said.

"The accumulated nervous tension of thoughts and images (conjured at the writing table) will not dissolve and continue to turn in the poor head of the author, who becomes rapidly irritable if not mad."

But he saved his most mordant thoughts for the fate of older people during the pandemic, who have often died alone in nursing homes.

"Never has it been so blithely explained that not everyone's life has the same value. That from a certain age -- 70, 75, 80 years? -- it is as if we are already dead."

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Houellebecq shot to fame with nihilistic novels depicting misogynistic men trapped in loveless existences and hooked on casual sex.

His latest, "Serotonin" -- about a depressed civil servant who discovers the misery of rural France -- became an instant bestseller last year as the yellow protest vest movement began to take off.

His previous highly controversial novel "Submission", published on the same day jihadists attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015, predicted that France would elect a Muslim president in 2022 and would soon be subject to Sharia law.