Picks and Pans Review: Platform

UPDATED 08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/25/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Michel Houellebecq

Howard Stern meets Albert Camus in this novel of sex and alienation so inflammatory about Muslims—"the losers of the Sahara"—that it was nearly banned in Houellebecq's (pronounced WELL-beck) native France. Narrator Michel barely registers his father's murder before flying to Thailand in search of hookers. There he falls for Valérie, a travel exec. The two develop a chain of prostitute-friendly hotels in poor countries, inciting angry Muslim extremists. Houellebecq has sharp observations about ennui in the Western world and rage in the Muslim one, and he's bitterly quotable: "Anything can happen in life, especially nothing." (Knopf, $25)

BOTTOM LINE: Fiercely engaging

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