Novelists today tend to be pretty bloodless creatures. Look at their bios: They’re mostly workshop professors or M.F.A. hatchlings. They review their peers’ books, sit on grant panels, give readings and interviews, and, during their free time, cook up soft-boiled bores to pay their children’s tuition.

None of that for Michel Houellebecq! The French author, lately of The Possibility of an Island, is an old-style enfant terrible: more lecherous than Pepys; more bibulous than Hemingway; more wretched than his own dim lodestar, H. P. Lovecraft.[1] Here, for illustration’s sake, is what Emily Eakin wrote for The New York Times of her visit to Houellebecq:

Houellebecq answered the door in stocking feet … and ushered me into the living room. He curled up in a chair with a pack of Silk Cuts and a bottle...

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