Thursday, January 8, 2009

2003 - Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre

This is the Booker prize winner that sent the media into a frenzy because the author, D.B.C. Pierre (real name Peter Warren Finlay) is a former drug addict who conned a friend out of a whole apartment somewhere in America. (He said he used some of the prize to pay him back). It wasn't really a book I wanted to read because (a) it's full of foul language and has no apparent literary qualities (b) it's narrated by a real smartarse who speaks like those morons I sometimes see on TV. This type of 'gonzo' adolescent slanginess was what also put me off The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Pulitzer Prize or no.

It is however, a clever satire, and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. Vernon is accused of the mass murder of his school mates after a Columbia-style tragedy, and the justice system is so screwed up with pseudo-experts and media tricks that he's found guilty and sentenced to death. Vernon's mother and her friends are obsessed with getting into the media to report on it, and his girlfriend (of a sort) turns him in, to a reporter in Mexico. It's just good luck that he is finally found not guilty and all ends well in crazy 21st century Texas.

There is a bit of a problem with the loss of plot direction about 2/3 of the way through, and I felt mildly guilty that I lost interest in the details of Vernon's life at about the same time as it was to be terminated. I almost put the book aside then, but persisted, and it does recover its impetus, romping through to its unlikely 'happy' ending.

I have heard that Americans mostly don't like this book. It is unequivocal about the immorality and injustice of capital punishment, now obsolete in the rest of the West. It is vicious satire, exposing the narcissm and materialism for which America is often lambasted. It is savage about the trashy way of life exemplified by the greed of its characters (takeaway food, monster fridges, obesity and dieting); it's ruthless in its commentary about their institutions (the legal system and the media). I don't know whether it's fair comment or not. I've never been to America, and I don't imagine that a short time as a tourist in their splendid museums and art galleries would qualify me to make a judgement.

I finished reading this book and journalled it on 15.11.2003.
Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers


  1. Hey I loved your post. I loved the book too. The language was stunning and very suitable for the theme of the book- a no-frills depiction of the harsh reality that is America.
    I attempted a review of it myself, here:
    let me know what you think.

  2. Lisa, It was very interesting to see your perspective on this one - I am interested in the portrayal of America in this book and how it is percieved by non-Americans. Thanks for deciding not to judge the whole country on this one novel!