Michel Houellebecq’s Serotonin is a caustic, frightening, hilarious, raunchy, offensive, and politically incorrect novel about the decline of Europe, Western civilization, and humanity in general.
Deeply depressed by his romantic and professional failures, the aging hedonist and agricultural engineer Florent-Claude Labrouste feels he is “dying of sadness.” He hates his young girlfriend, and the feeling is almost certainly mutual; his career is pretty much over; and he has to keep himself thoroughly medicated to cope with day-to-day life.
Suffocating in the rampant loneliness, consumerism, hedonism, and sprawl of the city, Labrouste decides to head for the hills, returning to Normandy, where he once worked promoting regional cheeses and where he was once in love, and even—it now seems—happy. There he finds a countryside devastated by globalization and by European agricultural policies, and encounters farmers longing, like Labrouste himself, for an impossible return to a simpler age.
As the farmers prepare for what might be an armed insurrection, it becomes clear that the health of one miserable body and of a suffering body politic are not so different, and that all parties may be rushing toward a catastrophe that a whole drugstore’s worth of antidepressants won’t make bearable.
In his latest provocation, Houellebecq (Submission) brilliantly pokes at modern questions of free trade, social decline, and overmedication, while continually undermining the work with puerile sequences that have little to do with the plot. Florent-Claude Labrouste is an aging, chain-smoking Ministry of Agriculture employee based in Paris. After a brief interlude in Spain, he realizes that he despises his live-in girlfriend, Yuzu. Shortly after, he also discovers that she has been in a sequence of gang-bang videos (one involving dogs) and decides to vanish. Labrouste quits his job, takes up residence in a hotel, and starts taking a pill for his depression, one that kills his libido. Suddenly emboldened, he goes back to the Normandy of his youth in search of his lost love, Camille. There, he lives with his old friend Aymeric, a depressed dairy farmer struggling against E.U. quotas. The farmers arm themselves, and a violent denouement looms. Along the way there is a bizarre child pornography sequence that seems to exist mainly to perpetuate Houellebecq's long-standing enfant terrible reputation. And yet, despite so much that alienates (Labrouste's causal racist and sexist remarks pepper the book), Houellebecq is a seductive, talented writer, and he remains strangely prophetic about current issues (in this case, protests against free trade). The result is an unexpected page-turner about the dairy trade.