Houllebecq set to helm

Author inks to direct his own work

PARIS — Controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq has inked a deal with the Lagardere Group to publish his next novel, which he will adapt into a screenplay for a pic he will helm.

Project will be Houellebecq’s first as a director and will be produced by Lagardere’s GMT Prods., which produces broadcaster TF1’s popular skein “Julie Lescaut” and big-budget TV minis such as “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Les Miserables.”

Nothing is known about the novel except that it’s being published by Fayard Editions, also part of the Lagardere Group, and will appear in 2005.

Houellebecq’s books have been translated into 35 languages — more than any other contemporary French writer. His last book, “Platform,” a pre-9/11 story about an Islamic group’s bombing attack on a hotel in Thailand, was published by Flammarion in 2001.

“(This deal) is a true first,” Fayard’s managing director Claude Durand said, adding it demonstrates an amazing synergy in the Lagardere Group.

Houellebecq, whose first novel, “Whatever,” was published in 1994, came to prominence in 1999 with his second novel, “The Elementary Particles,” about two half-brothers struggling to keep body and soul together.

The Lagardere deal is a breakthrough for Houellebecq, who has written screen adaptations of “Elementary Particles” and “Platform” without finding the support to helm them himself.

Houellebecq co-adapted “Whatever” in 1999. The pic, directed by Philippe Harel and starring Jose Garcia, flopped on release.

Not one to shy away from controversy the 46-year-old, who lives in Ireland, caused an uproar in 2001 when he described Islam as “the most stupid religion” in an interview with French magazine Lire.

(AFP contributed to this report.)

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