Finished it yesterday.
An enjoyable read for me but I wouldn't recommend it to someone not acquainted with Houellebecq. It felt somewhat unpolished and like it could've used some more editing at first but as one gets to know the protagonist narrator it starts making sense.
Basically the book is a glorified travelogue (mostly through the Normandy) by a male in his mid-40s who has no family, no friends, no relationships, no hobbies except for eating, drinking and smoking (it's a recurring motif of his misery that most of the hotels don't allow smoking anymore). One day he decides to disappear from his Paris flat and cheating Japanese girlfriend, he's well off so he can stay in hotels, travel around and in theory live a decent life. Except what for? He starts taking a novel promising SSRI called "Captorix" due to which he loses his already limping libido and through that the most important aspect of his life: his sexual relationships. This allows him a detached perspective which leads to brutally honest and often absurdly comical observations about himself, the people around him, the meaning of life and other mundanities.
Most people he meets during his aimless wandering, some former lovers and his only friend, a French nobleman who's never turned a profit trying to build up an ecological farming business, are similarly reduced to alcoholism and bitterness (and the protagonist could well be in their place would he not take the antidepressants). The long-winded sentences, full of mundanities, connected by a multitude of commas, perfectly exemplify the rambling thought processes of a person chemically kept from "dying of grief". Something feels wrong about his life, about the world in general but the vague realization is already too much, too overpowering. None of his ideas to turn his life around are realized in the end.
A lot of the ills of modern life are aptly displayed and thematized: the blight of globalized neoliberalism destroying the livelihood of domestic farmers, the commoditization of love leaving many people alone and unhappy at an age when a new beginning is impossible but life is not yet over, leading meaningless lives drowning themselves in alcohol. A whole lot of the novel is taken up by lengthy ruminations of the protagonist about his past lovers, with some of whom he could certainly have led a happy life had he received some better guidance in life.
Overall it's a rather poignant read though plentily interspersed with some of Houellebecq's dark observational humor.
I started J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition
today, only read the introduction and first chapter so far. It was vaguely unsettling but I imagine it felt much more relevant and shocking at the time it was released in 1970 as it's full of pop references.