The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

If your preference is for the controversial, try reading The Elementary Particles (2000) by Michel Houellebecq ( and This edition was a translation from the French by Frank Wynne. It has otherwise been translated as ‘Atomised’. The summary is simple enough. Bruno and Michel are half-brothers abandoned by their mother, an unabashed devotee of the drugged-out free-love world of the sixties. Bruno, the older, has become raucously promiscuous himself, while Michel is an emotionally dead molecular biologist wholly immersed in the solitude of his work. Each is ultimately offered a final chance at genuine love, and what unfolds is a caustic and unpredictable tale.

This novel was the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for writer and translator. Houellebecq was lauded and thrust into the light of literary fame at the time of the book’s French publication in 1998. The author was also eventually awarded the Prix Novembre in recognition of the novel. Other critics castigated the work as juvenile, vulgar, pornographic and nihilistic. Has this been a case of the literary establishment getting in a lather about nothing of any serious value? The only way for you to judge is to give this a go yourself. Enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic detail.

The novel was brought to the screen as the German film ‘Elementarteilchen’ – and released for English speaking audiences as Atomised in 2006. ( It was written and directed by Oskar Roehler and produced by Oliver Berben and Bernd Eichinger. It stars Moritz Bleibtreu as Bruno, Christian Ulmen as Michael, Martina Gedeck as Christiane, Franka Potente as Annabelle, and Nina Hoss as Jane. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2006. In contrast to the book’s setting of Paris, the film was shot and is mainly situated in, various locations in Germany. Thuringia and Berlin feature. Contrary to the book, the film does not exhibit a strident cultural pessimism, and it has an alternative ending.

The film (in German with English subtitles) is available on DVD at

320 pages in Alfred A. Knopf

First published 2000

ISBN 978-0375407703

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Michel Houellebecq

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