By People Staff
Updated August 25, 2003 12:00 PM

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