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I was astonished to learn, from today's Times, that it is possible to be both a French intellectual and a "little git". Just fancy:
Michel Houellebecq is a literary icon whose novels have been acclaimed by critics as the cruel illumination of a troubled era.
But France's most celebrated and controversial contemporary author could be pushed off his pinnacle following an astonishingly vitriolic attack from a critic with a unique insight into his oeuvre.
She is his mother - and she is threatening to knock his teeth out with her walking stick if he mentions her again in one of his works.
In a book of her own to be published next week, Lucie Ceccaldi depicts the cult writer as an untalented social climber whose ego is only matched by his dishonesty.
"What are these novels where nothing ever happens?” she says.
“This individual, who alas! came out of my tummy, is a liar, an impostor, a parasite and especially, especially, a little upstart ready to do anything for fortune and fame,” Mrs Ceccaldi, 83, writes in L'Innocente, an autobiography. The onslaught on the petit con (little git) is the revenge of a woman who has been scorned and disparaged by her son in public comments and writings.
In Atomised, the 1998 novel that propelled Houellebecq to stardom, for example, one of the most detestable characters is an ageing, dissolute hippy who abandoned her children in favour of sex in a strange community on the French Riviera.
The character is called Ceccaldi and bears a striking resemblance to Houellebecq's mother - who left him to be brought up by his grandparents while she drove around Africa with her husband in a 2CV and then went to work as a doctor. In subsequent interviews, the author described her as a slut and said that she was dead.
Mrs Ceccaldi is determined to prove that she is neither.
In an interview with Lire, the French literary magazine, to be published today, she said: “This is a libel because everything he says about me is false.”
Mrs Ceccaldi, a Communist Party activist in her youth who now lives in a beach hut on La Réunion island, goes on: “My son, he can f*** off wherever he wants, with whom he wants, because I don't give a stuff about him. But if he has the misfortune to stick my name in one of his things one more time, he's going to get hit in the gob with a walking stick and that'll knock all his teeth out, that's for sure.”
In other news, Jacques Derrida's maman called her son a "f*ckwit", and said that if she clapped eyes on his ugly mug again she would deconstruct it.