"Yes, Houellebecq's a stupid little bastard, whether he's my son or not." Michel Houellebecq's mother, angry at her portrayal in the press and in one of her son's recent books, comes out swinging with a memoir of her own.
Ceccaldi's son is Michel Houellebecq, France's most successful contemporary writer, an award-winning, ageing enfant terrible whose nihilistic, deliberately shocking novels have seen him hailed as a genius. Philip Larkin spoke for most writers when he said: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad." But Houellebecq's disgust for his "old slut of a mother" goes far beyond that. When Ceccaldi abandoned him to his grandparents as a baby so she could go travelling across Africa with her husband, the rejection shaped his whole oeuvre. In his international bestseller Les Particules élémentaires - translated as Atomised - he created one of modern French literature's vilest mothers, a selfish, sex-obsessed hippy called "Ceccaldi" who leaves her young son in an attic in his own excrement then dumps him so she can enjoy free-love life in a bizarre cult. Elsewhere, he described the "fundamental psychic flaw" his mother caused in him. He hasn't spoken to her for 17 years. He once told an interviewer she was dead.
But now Ceccaldi has emerged from her beach-hut on the French Indian ocean island of La Réunion and today publishes her own memoir answering back. She calls her son an "evil, stupid little bastard" adding that "this individual, who alas came from my womb, is a liar, an imposter, a parasite and above all - above all - a petit arriviste ready to do absolutely anything for money and fame."
It is France's literary slanging-match of the decade. But as Ceccaldi tours Paris slagging off her famous son, what initially enthralled the literary world is becoming more and more painful to watch. Raging at Atomised, Ceccaldi writes: "If he is unfortunate enough to use my name in something again, I'll cane him round the face, that'll knock his teeth out, that's for sure. And [his publishers] won't stop me." She talks about how she flew to Paris in 1998 after reading the book and wanted to smash up his publishers and then smash his face in.