Satirical Houellebecq wins France's top book prize

8th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

France's best-known living writer Michel Houellebecq won its top literary award, the Goncourt Prize, on Monday for his best-selling satire "The Map and the Territory", the prize committee announced.

The honour was overdue for fans of Houellebecq, who came close to winning in 1998 and 2005 but has divided readers and critics with edgy, sex-fuelled satires that have drawn accusations of obscenity and racial provocation.

Houellebecq, 52, is the best-known French writer abroad, chronicler of modern male angst with novels such as such as "Atomised" and "Platform" -- a sex-tourism romp with an Islamist terrorism theme which landed him in court.

The 2010 prize winner was announced at the chic Drouant restaurant in Paris by the Goncourt panel of literary bigwigs who voted seven to two in his favour.

"La carte et le territoire" (The Map and the Territory), one of four finalists, satirises the Paris art world in the tale of Jed Martin, an artist who gains global fame by photographing old Michelin maps.

It softens the misanthropic tone of his four previous novels, but skewers with dry humour a number of real-life personalities, even featuring a drunken, stinking, badly-dressed writer named Michel Houellebecq.

It has garnered enthusiastic reviews -- Liberation newspaper called it a "masterpiece" -- and sales have stayed buoyant despite a row last month over accusations of plagiarism, which the author has dismissed as "ridiculous".

The cut-and-paste claim centred on three factual passages that were apparently lifted almost word-for-word from Wikipedia, the user-generated online encyclopedia.

The author has dismissed the accusation, arguing that mixing "real" texts into fiction was a technique countless writers have used.

© 2010 AFP

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