Chosen by Herman Koch
In Herman Koch’s new novel, The Ditch, Amsterdam’s mayor indulges his prejudices after deciding his foreign-born wife might be cheating on him. Below, the best-selling author of The Dinner recommends other books that spotlight political incorrectness.
Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq (2019). In his latest novel, the absolute master of political incorrectness does not disappoint his readers. “Nobody in the West will ever be happy again,” his depressed narrator tells us. It is all made very palatable by a quality that many French authors lack: a great sense of humor. The U.S. edition of the book is due out in September.
White by Bret Easton Ellis (2019). In this surprising and very funny recent book, the target is, for once, not the people who voted for Donald Trump but the still-in-shock liberal establishment. Its members are so shaken, in fact, that self-censoring your political views is highly recommended if you want to remain friends with them. Agreeing or disagreeing with Ellis makes reading this book all the more fun.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (2018). In Nunez’s award-winning novel, the girlfriend of a deceased famous author puts most of her criticisms of her late lover aside to survive as an individual while contending with Wives One, Two, and Three. Which of the four women is most entitled to be the author’s true heir? The one who has inspired his best work, or the one who gets stuck with his Great Dane?
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866). Camouflaged by a lot of Christian thought (and afterthoughts) lies a message that marks Dostoyevsky as the first politically incorrect author of modern times: Committing a crime can take away self-doubt and some of the boredom of daily life.
Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1932). This is the 20th-century novel with the highest density of politically incorrect thoughts, most of them attributed to a Céline-like misanthrope and all served with the author’s (again not so typically French) sense of humor.
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (1959). It was quite easy to be politically incorrect in Soviet times. Grossman’s World War II novel surfaced only decades after it was banned and all known copies destroyed. It offers a very moving portrait of a character (one of many) who betrays his closest friends and himself most of all. ■