Michel Houellebecq was seated with his legs crossed in a chair in his publishers' office here, chain-smoking and flicking away criticism that his latest novel, "Submission," is Islamophobic, or at least critical of Islam. "I really couldn't care less, to be honest," said Mr. Houellebecq, France's best-known world-weary bad-boy novelist, letting out a little laugh that interrupted his usual deadpan delivery.

Islam itself doesn't interest him, he continued during a recent interview before the novel's release in the United States next Tuesday by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. "What interests me is the fear that it creates, not the contents," he said.

"Submission," which is set in 2022 and imagines France under its first Muslim president, was published in France on Jan. 7, the day jihadists killed 12 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, whose cover that week featured Mr. Houellebecq (pronounced WELL-beck) in a magician's hat, as if predicting the future.

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