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Culture

French author Houellebecq accused of intimidating press in spat with Le Monde

media Michel Houellebecq

World-famous French author Michel Houellebecq is locked in bitter battle with Le Monde newspaper over a six-part series on him that started Monday. Houellebecq refused to cooperate with the highly respected paper and called on his friends to do likewise, even inciting them to take legal action.

"I refuse to talk to you and I'm asking people I know to adopt the same attitude," the prize-winning author of Atomised, Platform and other literary best-sellers told Le Monde's journalists when they started working on the series in June, an article in the daily on Monday explains.

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He CCed all of Paris's cultural movers and shakers, including headline-grabbing philosophers Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Onfray, in the email communicating his refusal to cooperate.

If Le Monde persisted they should not hesitate to sue, he added, pointing out that "the legal procedure is straightforward and rather lucrative".

Le Monde has persisted, publishing the first of its articles and a report of the row on Monday.

"A writer refusing to speak to the press for an article about him is pretty commonplace and, if we let that put us off, we wouldn't write any more on anything or any person," Le Monde journalist Ariane Chemin told the AFP news agency.

But her research appears to have been hampered by Houellebecq's edict.

Publishers, editors, film-makers and even academics have refused to be interviewed and his former partner, Marie-Pierre Gauthier, having spoken to the paper once, cancelled a second meeting "so as not to endanger Michel's health", according to Chemin.

Houellebecq is known for his dyspeptic view of the modern world and has been an outspoken critic of religion, especially Islam.

He pulled out of promoting his latest novelSoumission (Submission), which is about an Islamist becoming French president, because it was published on the day of January's Charlie Hebdo attacks.

"He poses as a victim, as a sad and suffering person whom literature has allowed to rise above his destiny, but in reality he has become a tyrant," one writer, whom "Houellebecq admires", told Le Monde.

The first article of the series, The six lives of Michel Houellebecq, visits Paris's Chinatown, in the 13th arrondissement, where Houellebecq has taken up residence in a tower block, "from which he controls the ballet of le Tout Paris at his feet".

He previously lived in Ireland for several years.

Le Monde reports that Houellebecq said he would be talking to right-wing weekly Le Figaro Magazine, which in Ennemis publics (Public Enemies), a book coauthored with Lévy, he dubbed "a rag".

The paper also accuses Houellebecq of previous attempts to "intimidate the press", including journalist Denis Demonpion, who was planning to write his biography.

Demonpion published his book, Houellebecq non autorisé (The Unauthorised Houellebecq), in 2005, having refused a suggestion that its subject's remarks on its content be published as footnotes.

It revealed that the author was two years older than he had previously admitted and that his mother, with whom he had a troubled relationship, was not dead, as he claimed (she died in 2010).

"I regret ... not having ... tried a bit of physical intimidation on the biography's author," Houellebecq later told Bernard-Henry Lévy, according to Le Monde

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