Some intellectuals said Houellebecq had been “irresponsible”. The media pressed him to apologise. Where once he was a bolshy rebel outsider, he now has a godlike status as France’s biggest literary export and, some say, greatest living writer – so what he says counts. But he denies any “responsibility”.
“It’s not my role to be responsible. I don’t feel responsible,” he says. “The role of a novel is to entertain readers, and fear is one of the most entertaining things there is.” To him, the fear in Submission comes in the dark violence at the novel’s start, before the moderate Islamist party comes to power. Was he deliberately playing on a mood of fear in France? “Yes, I plead guilty,” he says. For Houellebecq, the job of a novelist is foremost to hold a mirror up to contemporary society.