Saturday, November 5, 2011
Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
As a complete aside, this is the third book I have read in the last month or so, that is at least partly set in Texas, how strange.
Vernon is a 15-year-old who witnesses a shooting massacre at his Texan high school. Events quickly conspire to implicate Vernon in the shooting. The premise of the novel, I think, is that society is so awful (especially the media and other aspects of corporate and individual self interest) that a teenager such as Vernon, battling with his grief and trauma from the shooting, not to mention his own "coming of age" issues could be pushed into a position that has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with satisfying the needs of others.
Not surprisingly I think, the novel reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye, and to be honest that novel is not one of my favourites either. I didn't fully engage with Holden and I certainly didn't warm to Vernon. Again, I probably wasn't meant to.
So I don't get bogged down I think from here I am going to keep it simple and say what I felt were the strengths of the novel and what didn't work for me.
The strengths: The narrative arc of the book is brilliant, all the little bits fit together at the end, and the pace and tension is well maintained. The humour is dark to the point of excoriation. Pierre, well and truly makes his point, all is not right with western culture, especially when it comes to our media appetites. The small town and its characters are also very well drawn, painfully so. The insecurities and petty back biting feels very real. I guess most importantly, the writing itself is good, the man can write; great use of dialogue, both internal and spoken.
Where the novel didn't work for me: I don't think I like satire in my fiction, maybe it is as simple as that. I want to be moved or entertained by a novel, not yelled at or completely grossed out. This is an angry and often ridiculing voice, I was put off by it. I guess my revulsion could be a testament to Pierre's brilliant characterisation because this journey with Vernon feels like going on high speed ride with a foul mouthed, cynical yet vulnerable teenager. I was glad when it was over.
In short, I will be heading back to the Victorian classics, science fiction and historical fiction. If however, The Catcher in the Rye is one of your all time favourite novels, or you like your contemporary fiction with a darkly comic edge, you might really enjoy this book. I would love to hear if others have read this, and what they think.