Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 14, 2020

Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre, winner of the Booker Prize in 2003

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, cross-posting my reviews from The Complete Booker.
To see my progress with completing the Complete Booker Challenge, see here.

Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre, won the Booker Prize in 2003.

July 7th, 2003

This is the Booker prize winner that sent the media into a frenzy because the author, DBC. 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 narcissism 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.


Responses

  1. Hi Lisa

    Thanks for the re-posting of your review. While I empathised with the theme of the rottenness at the core of the American system of justice, politics , media and lifestyle generally, and I did live in the US and Canada for five years about 40 years ago, I found the book very tedious and pretentious. I would also be critical of its style if it had ever settled on one! It was the only Booker winner that I have failed to finish in the past 25 years or so. Your remarks have reminded me about the vapidity of the treatment of a serious subject. Americans often fail to carry off satire effectively; it seems not to be part of their cultural equipment. I thought that the book was a poor winner in a weakish year (remember Yellow Dog, very well named ), but for me the stand out book that year was Oryx and Crake, which was on the long list and I think made the short list as well.

    Here endeth the vent!
    Chris

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    • As it happens, I read all of the shortlist this year, and I agree that it wasn’t a great year. But I wouldn’t have given it to Oryx and Crake, which I didn’t much like. I would have given it to Notes on a Scandal.

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  2. I read this one and my old review suggests I thought it was uneven, interesting and a bit bonkers. I’ve never been tempted to read anything else by him, though he’s clearly a very interesting character. I’d live to read a memoir if he ever cared to write one!

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    • My view precisely. Interesting, bonkers, but not an author to continue with, not unless someone I trust recommends it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well! It looks like we were wrong about this, DBC Pierre’s new book has just been shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize!!

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        • Yes, I saw that this morning. It actually sounds like an interesting book!

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          • I’ve got a copy already. I ordered it as soon as I saw it from Benns Books and they delivered it door-to-door this afternoon. How’s that for service!!!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Wow! That’s keen.

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              • Ah well, there were some other books I wanted. I just needed one more to make it worth while putting the order in…

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  3. I enjoyed this quite a but at the time but haven’t read anything by DBC Pierre since.

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    • I think we’ll all be reading him again soon, now that he’s been shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize.

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