Ian Buruma reviews "Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World"

One way to read this book, a dialogue between two famous French authors, is as a comic novel, a brilliant satire on the vanity of writers. Michel Houellebecq, who won last year’s Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary award, for his latest novel, “La Carte et le Territoire,” is well known for his provocative black humor. Bernard-Henri Lévy (also known as BHL), though less noted for his wit, likes to play up to his reputation as a comic figure, popping up here, there and everywhere in his fine white shirts, opened halfway down his chest, holding forth on everything from Jean-Paul Sartre to jihad in Pakistan, and generally acting out the role, in a somewhat theatrical fashion, of the great Parisian Intellectual….

The two writers exchange views on many topics, like the matter of being Jewish ”” often, but not really here, a rich source of comedy. BHL is Jewish, and voices his “unconditional support for Israel.” Houellebecq, who is not, declares that he was always “on the side of the Jews.” It is indeed “a real joy, to see Israel fighting these days.” So no disagreements there.

On religion, BHL explains his “Judeo-Christian” hypothesis of “a soul made in the image of God.” To which Houellebecq replies that since BHL obviously believes in God, he, Houellebecq, “will probably look at you a little strangely” the next time they meet. To which BHL counters that he does not really believe in God at all, but there is a “level,” somewhere, “that goes beyond (or is perhaps more basic than) the question of whether or not we’re living in the ”˜truth.’”

Read it all.

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