Paris (AFP) - His new book has not even been released but Michel Houellebecq -- one of France's most provocative and widely translated writers -- is already attracting comment with his latest novel "Submission" in which he imagines a France in 2022 under Muslim rule.
To be published on January 7, "Soumission" is the sixth novel by the author of "The Map and the Territory", which won France's top literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, in 2010.
Set amid political turmoil in 2022, the story begins with the far-right National Front (FN) about to take power from current president Francois Hollande.
But when a fictional Muslim Brotherhood party, supported by an alliance of three parties from the both the left and the right, beats FN leader Marine le Pen in a second round of voting, the way is cleared for the country's first Muslim government led by President Mohammed Ben Abbes.
France finds itself shattered, as does the book's narrator, the nihilistic Francois, a university professor with an unrestrained but joyless sex life.
Francois particularly enjoys walking around Paris's Chinatown in the southeast of the capital where he lives.
"Nothing, not even a Muslim government, seems to be able to slow down their incessant activity," he says, watching the Chinese there.
Francois hesitates to convert to Islam in order to keep his post.
In the meantime, however, his university is renamed the Paris-Sorbonne Islamic University and the secretaries take to wearing veils.
- 'A reactionary redneck' -
Always happy to be a polemicist, Houellebecq, 56, whose real name is Michel Thomas, in 2001 provoked outrage by stating in an interview that "the most stupid religion is, let's face it, Islam".
With a first print run of 150,000 copies, his latest work has already stirred plenty of comment.
"A little afraid that Michel Houellebecq has become a reactionary redneck in his next book," one Twitter user said.
"The future of France that Houellebecq describes is a nightmare made of integration, fanaticism and intolerance," RAI, the Italian public television channel, said on its website.
French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin has said she is waiting to read the book.
"Houellebecq has always been provocative," she told French Radio, adding however that it was important to keep in mind that "there is a second level to him".
A bestselling author whose books have been widely translated, Houellebecq nonetheless has plenty of detractors.
Some accuse him of a lack of style, a charge he has defended himself against by stating that "there is a confusion between style and verbal hysteria".
An agricultural engineer by training, he published poems before his current life as a writer began in 1994 with his first novel "Extension du domaine de la lutte" which very quickly established himself as a cult novelist.
His next novel "Les Particules Elementaires" (1998) was followed by "Plateforme" (2001) about sex tourism, and "La Possibilite d'une ile" (2005), about the Raelian movement which believes life on earth was created by extraterrestrial.
Then in 2010, he won the Goncourt, an ambition he had cherished for a decade.