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The Map and the Territory
Cover of The Map and the Territory
The Map and the Territory
Borrow Borrow
The most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time now delivers his magnum opus—about art and money, love and friendship and death, fathers and sons.
 
The Map and the Territory is the story of an artist, Jed Martin, and his family and lovers and friends, the arc of his entire history rendered with sharp humor and powerful compassion. His earliest photographs, of countless industrial objects, were followed by a surprisingly successful series featuring Michelin road maps, which also happened to bring him the love of his life, Olga, a beautiful Russian working—for a time—in Paris. But global fame and fortune arrive when he turns to painting and produces a host of portraits that capture a wide range of professions, from the commonplace (the owner of a local bar) to the autobiographical (his father, an accomplished architect) and from the celebrated (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology) to...
The most celebrated and controversial French novelist of our time now delivers his magnum opus—about art and money, love and friendship and death, fathers and sons.
 
The Map and the Territory is the story of an artist, Jed Martin, and his family and lovers and friends, the arc of his entire history rendered with sharp humor and powerful compassion. His earliest photographs, of countless industrial objects, were followed by a surprisingly successful series featuring Michelin road maps, which also happened to bring him the love of his life, Olga, a beautiful Russian working—for a time—in Paris. But global fame and fortune arrive when he turns to painting and produces a host of portraits that capture a wide range of professions, from the commonplace (the owner of a local bar) to the autobiographical (his father, an accomplished architect) and from the celebrated (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology) to...
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  • From the book

    Jeff Koons had just got up from his chair, enthusiastically throwing his arms out in front of him. Sitting opposite him, slightly hunched up, on a white leather sofa partly draped with silks, Damien Hirst seemed to be about to express an objection; his face was flushed, morose. Both of them were wearing black suits—Koons’s had fine pinstripes—and white shirts and black ties. Between them, on the coffee table, was a basket of candied fruits that neither paid any attention to. Hirst was drinking a Bud Light.  
    Behind them, a bay window opened onto a landscape of tall buildings that formed a Babylonian tangle of gigantic polygons that stretched across the horizon. The night was bright, the air absolutely clear. They could have been in Qatar, or Dubai; the decoration of the room was, in reality, inspired by an advertisement photograph, taken from a German luxury publication, of the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.
     
    Koons’s forehead was slightly shiny. Jed shaded it with his brush and stepped back three paces. There was certainly a problem with Koons. Hirst was basically easy to capture: you could make him brutal, cynical in an “I shit on you from the top of my pile of cash” kind of way; you could also make him a rebel artist (but rich all the same) pursuing an anguished work on death; finally, there was in his face something ruddy and heavy, typically English, which made him look like a rank-and-file Arsenal supporter. In short, there were various aspects to him, but all of them could be combined into a coherent, representative portrait of a British artist typical of his generation. Koons, on the other hand, seemed to have a duality, an insurmountable contradiction between the basic cunning of the technical sales rep and the exaltation of the ascetic. It was already three weeks now that Jed had been retouching Koons’s expression as he stood up from his chair, throwing out his arms as if he were trying to convince Hirst of something. It was as difficult as painting a Mormon pornographer.
     
    He had photographs of Koons on his own, in the company of Roman Abramovich, Madonna, Barack Obama, Bono, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates... Not one of them managed to express anything of the personality of Koons, to go beyond the appearance of a Chevrolet convertible salesman that he had decided to display to the world, and this was exasperating. In fact, for a long time photographers had exasperated Jed, especially the great photographers, with their claim to reveal in their snapshots the truth of their models. They didn’t reveal anything at all, just placed themselves in front of you and switched on the motor of their camera to take hundreds of random snapshots while chuckling, and later chose the least bad of the lot; that’s how they proceeded, without exception, all those so-called great photographers. Jed knew some of them personally and had nothing but contempt for them; he considered them all about as creative as a Photomaton.
     
    In the kitchen, a few steps behind him, the boiler uttered a succession of loud banging noises. It went rigid, paralyzed. It was already 15 December.
     
    One year before, on almost the same date, his boiler had uttered the same succession of banging noises before stopping completely. In a few hours, the temperature in the studio had fallen to thirty-seven degrees. He had managed to sleep a little, or rather doze off, for brief periods. Around six in the morning, he had emptied the hot-water tank to wash himself quickly, then had brewed coffee while waiting for the man from...

About the Author-
  • Already honored with the Prix Novembre and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Michel Houellebecq won the Prix Goncourt for The Map and the Territory in 2010.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 9, 2012
    In his partly satirical new novel (after The Possibility of an Island), Houellebecq takes on the contemporary art world and the role of the artist. The book follows the sensational career of Jed Martin, an emotionally stunted Parisian art photographer turned painter, as he navigates the slick machinery of the art market and fraught relationships with his workaholic father and a bombshell Russian. Art historians' assessments of Martin's work, dealing with industry and professions, are humorously invoked throughout; his work is characterized as "the product of a cold, detached reflection on the state of the world"—a description that might be applied to Houellebecq's own oeuvre. Indeed, Houellebecq appears as a central character after he is hired to write a catalog essay for Martin's exhibition and the two become unlikely friends. The author's self-parody is deadpan funny, playing on his real literary world persona of a misanthropic recluse. But Houellebecq's presence grows tiresome, and with a surprising (if clumsy) plot twist, the book morphs into a grotesque police procedural. Houellebecq is most satisfying when he shines a hostile light on a late-capitalist Western culture sated by consumerism and shorn of meaning. For this reason, his take on the art world rings true, though the meditations on mortality and death are among the more compelling sections, in particular those dealing with Martin's father. Houellebecq mostly avoids the hedonistic shock that has earned him the enfant terrible reputation parodied herein, and despite the novel's self-conscious plot contrivances, it is a brilliantly astute work of social critique.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 1, 2011
    A revelation for all who follow the controversial French novelist, whether they love or loathe him. Houellebecq is "a loner with strong misanthropic tendencies," "a tired old decadent" and a "tortured wreck, "who "stank a little, but less than a corpse." At least these are descriptions of a character called "Michel Houellebecq" in the latest novel by the author who shares that name (Platform, 2003, etc.), though the narrative might well inspire readers to temper that caricature of the "real" Houellebecq. Where the novelist has been accused of trafficking in themes such as sex tourism and moral nihilism for shock value, here he achieves a richness and resonance beyond previous work, while continuing to explore free-market economics and how they pertain to artistic value and moral value. The character who shares his name even "seemed happy," shockingly enough, though he keeps his emotional distance from the author, much as he has from readers. Instead, the novel gets deeper beneath the skin of its protagonist, the visual artist Jed Martin, whose career it chronicles from his years as a photographer, whose enlargement of Michelin maps, combined with images from the places mapped, inspire an exhibition titled "THE MAP IS MORE INTERESTING THAN THE TERRITORY." Martin then switches to painting, woodshedding for a decade, emerging with the "Series of Simple Professions," hailed for masterworks such as "Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology" (having destroyed another titled "Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market." Somehow, the novel's fictional biography encompasses a tender romance, a meditation on the function and value of art and a police procedural. Both loners, the painter and the novelist, whom Martin commissions to write catalogue copy and whose portrait he paints, feel some affinity for each other, as they suspect that they might be kindred spirits, or even become friends. What they most share, it seems, is "something that did not exist in H Houellebecq, nor in him: a sort of familiarity with life." Very smart, very moving and occasionally very funny.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    August 1, 2011

    A brilliant risk taker unafraid of being distasteful (hey, the French invented the term epater le bourgeoisie), Houellebecq has attracted critical acclaim, controversy, and an intent if not immense audience when published here. This Prix Goncourt-winning novel, which follows the life of artist Jed Martin, should prove more accessible. Martin launches his career with photographs detailing Michelin road maps, then does portraits depicting various professions (one sitter is a writer named Houellebecq), and helps solve a terrible crime while facing up to mortality--his father's and then his own. For your smart crowd.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from January 1, 2012
    Houellebecq (The Possibility of an Island, 2006) has been outraging and galvanizing readers with his meticulously composed, cold-souled novels for the last 12 years. In his latest, winner of France's Prix Goncourt, he addresses the vatic nature of creativity and our ever-expanding definition of art while telling the story of an emotionally shut-down artist, Jed Martin, and a reclusive writer named (what else?) Michel Houellebecq. Jed's inexplicably powerful photographs of old Michelin maps bring him fame, wealth, and love. Brooding and insular, he next embarks on a series of paintings that pay homage to people and their work as the Industrial Revolution gives way to the digital revolution. Jed tracks down despondent and disheveled Michel to ask him to write catalog copy for an upcoming exhibition, thereby initiating a melancholy bond. Up to this point, Houellebecq's novel is supremely ensnaring in its acute and arch dissection of human endeavors elevated and crass, the latter including the tyranny of trends and the so-called free market. Suddenly, things take a macabre turn as we're plunged into an appalling crime scene, which gradually morphs into a disquieting paean to nature's indomitability. Houellebecq's bewitching journey on the river of art to the cave of death and decay is a tale of eviscerating insight, caustic humor, troubling beauty, and haunting provocation.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

  • Judith Shulevitz, The New York Times Book Review "Archly sarcastic, cheerily pedantic, willfully brutal.... But what remained with me of this singular novel is a powerful sense of the Houllebecquian mood, which the critic Paul Berman once characterized as 'depressive lucidity,' and which here consists of a heightened awareness of the impoverishment of everyday life and its landscape, along with a dammed-up pool of heartbreak."
  • Library Journal "Deeply amusing... A book of supreme importance, this is not to be missed."
  • Publishers Weekly "Deadpan funny... A brilliantly astute work of social critique."
  • Kirkus (starred review) "A revelation for all who follow the controversial French novelist, whether they love him or loathe him.... Here he achieves a richness and resonance beyond his previous work ... a tender romance, a meditation of the function and value of art and a police procedural.... Very smart, very moving and occasionally very funny."
  • The Mirror (4-star book of the week) "Beautifully, accurately translated.... Accessible and highly enjoyable. If ever there was a novelist for our globally dysfunctional times it's Michel Houellebecq.... Long cast aside as the bad boy of books, [his] latest novel has seen him brought in from the cold, and embraced by the literary establishment for what he's always been – not much short of a genius."
  • Literary Review "One of the most important facts about Michel Houellebecq...is that he is a first-rate prose stylist....This novel was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 2010 and now, as it finally arrives in English in a finely nuanced translation by Gavin Bowd, it does not disappoint....Teasing and entertaining.... A page turner."
  • The Daily Telegraph "Very likely his best [book] ever, a serious novel about aging and death that also employs its author's trademark lugubrious wit towards some delicious exercises in satire and self-parody.... A challenging, mature and highly intelligent book."
  • The Guardian "This is the brilliant and controversial French writer's most intellectually ambitious book.... Funny, astonishing and authoritative."
  • Evening Standard "A dark master of invention.... In a world of copycatting and fakery, Michel Houellebecq is an exceptional writer and a stand-out original."
  • Scotland on Sunday "An astonishing writer.... The Map and the Territory is funny, shocking, brutal and unbearably poignant.... Sublime."
  • The Sunday Times "All novelists everywhere have benefited from [Houellebecq's] audacity. Like Flaubert with Madame Bovary, Lawrence with Lady Chatterley's Lover or William Burroughs with Naked Lunch, his temerity has recharged the form and reminded people what the novel can do and what latent, incendiary power it has at its disposal."
  • The Guardian "A great read.... A wonderfully strange and subversive enterprise."
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