The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq
If you, like myself, are intrigued by the genius, politics and drama in the world of art you won’t want to miss this novel. Set in contemporary French society the novel first appears as a coming of age story of the young artist Jed Martin until Houllebecq arrives on the scene to write the notes for Jed’s upcoming exhibition wherein it becomes a brilliant conversation on art, death, and society.
It is said novelists who place themselves in their work rarely come out alive, but when Houllebecq, who is at times both comic, depressed, acerbic and/or inebriated, agrees to let Jed to paint his portrait, the ensuing dialogue made up of controversial observations and reflections about art and life educate and engage the reader while giving credence as to why Houellenbecq is looked upon as a “tour de force” novelist.
“The Little Red Chairs” refers to the six hundred and forty three small red chairs set out on streets of Sarajevo, for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1,425 day sige of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs. These chairs were meant to represent children killed by snipers and artillery fire.
In this her first novel in ten years, author Edna O’Brien challenges us to explore the capacity human beings have for evil and asks if love, however innocent, can be tolerated.
O’Brien’s novel, however, is not set it Sarajevo but in Ireland, a place O’Brien says is “a land of shame, of murder, of sacrificed women.” O’Brien’s heroine, Fidelma McBride, is a women unfulfilled. When she falls under the spell of a mysterious charismatic stranger, giving in to his charms and her own desire. When the truth about the stranger is revealed she is left disgraced and isolated. Her life is shattered. Thus begins her odyssey in search of redemption.
In a NYT Review Joyce Carol Oates explores how O’Brien idealization of a life of service has enriched her fiction, from “Country Girl” to “Little Red Chairs”. They may differ in time and place but they remain true to O’Briens’s central theme. Thus the odyssey ends when Fidelma gives herself up to the service of others finding her redemption in choosing “not to look at the prison wall of life, but to look up at the sky.”