Michel convinces his travel agent girlfriend that her company should turn some failing hotels in Thailand into brothels and market them to Europeans as sex tourism resorts, but his plan has deadly results. Michel and Valérie met when he went on a package tour to Thailand with money he inherited from his father, who was murdered.
Michel spends the vacation wandering from brothel to bar to nightclub, convinced the life is pointless. Eventually he begins an affair with Valérie. The two return to Paris, where she learns that her travel company is losing money, and Michel hits upon the sex tourism idea.
He's not entirely serious about it at first, but he and Valérie realize upon closer inspection that it could be successful. After all, thousands of European and American men already have sex with prostitutes when they travel to Thailand as a matter of course. Michel argues that this is because European women are not friendly, and because Westerners already have all the comforts of life and have grown bored with their existence.
Michel presents the proposal to Valérie's superiors, who go along with the plan. The sex tourism packages they sell are successful, particularly among German travelers. Michel and Valérie return to Thailand on the first such trip to oversee the project.
However, a group of Muslim terrorists attacks one of the brothels. The group is opposed to the spread of amoral Western culture and colonial attitudes symbolized by the brothels. Their bomb kills Valérie and more than a hundred prostitutes. Michel survives and must continue to shuffle through life with all those he loved now dead.
Best part of story, including ending:
Just when you think this novel is going nowhere other than an endless succession of sex scenes between bitter nihilists, the narratives explodes (literally, as there is a bombing) and suddenly everything feels more real and depressing than ever.
Best scene in story:
When Michel begins to realize that his idea for transforming a European travel agency into a sex tourism company might be something that could actually work, he starts to come to life, after going through the whole novel up to this point as a husk of a man, lurching from one meaningless sexual encounter to another, despondent over his father's death. It's such an odd juxtaposition that what energizes him is indulging in his most depraved instincts.
Opinion about the main character:
Michel is virtually unlikable. He is a misogynist and a racist. He only manages to have a decent relationship with Valérie because, like him, she doesn't care about anything other than wild sex. It's sad when she dies and Michel is alone again -- but more sad for her than for him.