Submission (2015), a novel in which a Muslim political party is elected to govern France, has been widely interpreted as part of a ubiquitous discourse of “declinism” in contemporary French intellectual culture. The novel has been accused of complicity with a reactionary politics favoring a return to strong patriarchal authority and national pride, while the narrative of the triumph of political Islam is frequently interpreted as a thinly veiled act of Islamophobia. This ideological interpretation is, however, complicated by the bad faith of the novel’s unreliable narrator, and by the ironic treatment of his narrative voice. By taking the elusiveness of this narration more fully into account, it becomes possible to read Submission as a tentative — if never unambiguous — narrative of religious conversion. To this extent, the treatment of Islam in Submission can be seen as consistent with the persistent but ambivalent role of religion in Houellebecq’s wider work.

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