Vernon God Little
by DBC Pierre
Martirio, Texas is a caricature of itself - surely it must be? This must be a composite, a product of many fusions and mergers of Texas towns, gleaned from movies, music and small town newspapers, but certainly it is convincing. I read Vernon God Little at the same time as Dude, Where's My Country and I confess that somehow the two have got mixed up, although the strong impression I have of an overlap of ideas may be of my own making.
Vernon God Little won the Man Booker Prize in 2003. It is a fast - paced and very exciting story of a teenage boy who finds himself at the centre of a manhunt, following a massacre at his high school. The facts are unclear, and, just as in The Little Friend, the immature narrator is too concerned with the minutiae of his own life, personal struggles and with staying alive to really analyse the situation. Cause and effect are characteristically dislocated and Vernon gets somewhat sidetracked by his personal abhorrence for the media machine which pounces on Martirio and fails to see the gravity of his situation. As the story finally unfolds, it is not by Vernon's telling, but rather through our own deductions from the complete mess that snowballs in the aftermath of the killings.
DBC writes powerfully in a direct, affectingly satirical but also whimsical way. There are beautiful descriptive passages, particularly of the hot, festering, ugly little town of Martirio and his language is full of poetry, in the most unlikely places. DBC creates convincing relationships, with Vernon and his mother being particularly well drawn and showing all the pathos you could wish for as the boy attempts to break away from his flawed and suffocating home. I found some of these mother - son passages tough to read and I wasn't sure who I identified with most, possibly both equally, and this is the key to the power of the book - to take the reader back into teenage years, perhaps not quite to the obsessive depths (or highs) of Vernon, but definitely to a feeling of being done to, manipulated and persecuted. It really is an acute study of paranoia - but then after all, Vernon had good reasons for being paranoid.
I found the description of Vernon's prison stay quite remarkable, particularly his visit to the priest Lasalle. Writing this visual and affecting is rare to find and there are many passionate, angry and brilliant parts to this book.
On a negative side, the plot is rather muddled and I'm not sure that I really got what was happening at times, but that is probably because I am unimaginably old by Vernon's standards and this, he would assert, makes me quite unable to see the world as it really is. Hand's up who can remember that feeling?
I was interested to read your review on this book as
although I haven't read it, I gave it to my 20 year old son last Christmas and he didn't recommend it. So the fact that you found the plot muddled was nothing to do with you being too old!
My son said he found it to be similar in theme to Willie Russell's 'The Wrong Boy' but he found that book much more enjoyable. Funnily enough, I never managed to finish that book, as although some great writing, it just failed to hook me.
So there you go, my son and I have been reading and recommending books to each other for years and we rarely disagree. I also usually agree with most of the book groups assessments (apart from Notes on a Scandal, which I loved.)