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Controversial novelist Houellebecq picks up France's top honour
In this file photo taken on January 19, 2015, French author Michel Houellebecq presents his new book "Soumission" ("Submission") before a reading as part of the LitCologne literature festival, at Schauspielhaus in Cologne, Germany. Patrik STOLLARZ / AFP.

PARIS (AFP).- President Emmanuel Macron has awarded the country's top honour to the controversial top-selling French novelist Michel Houellebecq, a scourge of the establishment for his bitter denunciations of modern France.

Macron bestowed the Legion d'honneur on Houellebecq at a ceremony late on Thursday, the Elysee Palace said.

The discreet ceremony was attended by high-ranking guests from the world of publishing and politics, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, participants said.

Also present was the singer Jean-Louis Aubert, who set Houellebecq's poems to music, and the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut.

Macron hailed Houellebecq, 63, as a "romantic in a material world" and argued that his novels were not pessimistic but full of hope in a society whose pillars, like culture and religion, had become fragile.

Recently married, Houellebecq is arguably France's highest profile novelist at home and abroad but also its most controversial.

His latest novel "Serotonin" -- about a hard-drinking and depressed employee at the agriculture ministry in Paris who discovers the hardship of rural France -- became an instant bestseller after it was published earlier this year.

Critics hailed it as prophetic, saying that the ageing "enfant terrible" had predicted the "yellow vests" protest movement that has shaken the country.

His previous novel "Submission", published in French on the same day that jihadists attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015, predicts that France will elect a Muslim president in 2022 and be subject to Sharia law.

The novelist had previously shot to worldwide fame with nihilistic novels depicting misogynistic men trapped in loveless existences and hooked on casual sex.

The presidency had announced on January in its New Year's honours list that Houellebecq would be awarded the Legion d'honnneur.

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