But occasionally a woman is interested in a Houellebecq hero. If he is also attracted to her, and—another miracle—he finds her company tolerable, this is love. The great thing about Houellebecq on love is that he sketches it broadly. When a male character waxes admiringly about his girlfriend, it is usually about her skill at giving hand jobs.
The reduction of female characters to their sexual function is normally considered the paramount example of literary misogyny. I wouldn’t try to clear Houellebecq on all counts of this charge, but I think that his insistence solely on animal satisfactions when representing love is one of his brilliant impieties. He has found, with admirable precision, a node of prudish sentimentality: in spite of the importance we place on the pursuit of sex in life and its graphic depiction in entertainment and art, we continue to suspect that sex acts reduce us to anonymity, annihilate whatever it is that makes us “individual,” and therefore can’t stand in for what we love about a person. The novelist can write about hand jobs, sure, but if he’s going to write about love, he’d better talk about the elegant slope of her shoulders or her quick wit.