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Little to redeem it: DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre Little to redeem it: DBC Pierres Vernon God Little

(Contains spoilers, but really, in doing so I’m saving you from having to read this book. Your regular kind and measured reviews will return tomorrow. )

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I’ve learned to become very wary of pull quotes over the past few years: it is a risky endeavour indeed to trust a pithy little phrase massaged into carefully positive shape through decontextualisation and the generous application of ellipses. Unearthing the true meaning of the dialect known as cover quote speak is a linguistic challenge all in its own right.

A book that is “uplifting” invariably contains a dead dog. A book that is a “triumph of the human spirit” is about war. A book that is “ambitious” is terrible. And a book like Vernon God Little, which is apparently “scabrously funny”?

Well, my best guess is that this phrase actually means “about as funny as picking a scab”.

I tried to do the right thing by this book. After my post on hideous covers last week I thought that I’d be the bigger person and read through some of the award-saturated but design-deficient books in my pile in order to prove that a book cannot necessarily be judged by its cover. Well, this one can.

This is a book that is as ugly on its inside as it is on its outside, and which will leave you feeling as though someone has stomped over your soul in muddy boots and then ground in some chewing gum for good measure. If it weren’t for the Booker Prize sticker on the front I wouldn’t have persisted past the first three pages. In retrospect, I should have peeled that little sticker off and saved myself some pain. Because surely that sticker is a mistruth? Surely, surely it’s a joke: the result of some brat having absconded with a set of hand-printed stickers and having stuck them willy-nilly on a landslide of self-published books as part of a piece of performance art?

Vernon (interchangeable middle name) Little is an anally fixated juvenile delinquent who has found himself the prime suspect of a school shooting massacre courtesy of the original shooter, and Vernon’s buddy, having offed himself at the scene. Vernon is taken in for questioning and, after some musing about feces, his underpants and the dietary choices of an overweight cop, flees the scene. A hundred pages or so of brutally ugly satirisation of small-town Texas, the trusting obliviousness of the downtrodden, and the west’s obsession with the soothing social panacea of the media follows before Vernon flees again, this time to Mexico, where he indulges in a sort of Kerouackian bender, gets busted, and ends up on death row hyperventilated over by the modern-day equivalent of scaffold-watchers.

Everything about this book jars. It’s three hundred pages of a radio tuned between channels, of a dentist’s drill needling its way into the back of your eye. Vernon’s voice is one-note and tuneless, a slurry of fuckens and panties and fuckens and panties that is so basely, heinously foul that even though you know you’re meant to be reading the white space in the story and appreciating the unreliable nature of his narration you can’t summon up the readerly vim to rise above the words on the page.

The characters trot through the pages in a toothless, health insurance-less house of mirrors, layering the drudgery and pettiness and guilessness of small town life into a poisonous trifle of ignorance and idiocy. The sheer absence of any, any spark of humanity on these pages is, one supposes, an authorial achievement, drawing an ugly parallel between the perversity of the media described in the book and the book itself, but then, you remember that even ugly books are meant to be read.

Perhaps, if I draw a really long bow and arm it with an arrow of enduring cynicism, I can tell myself that this book was chosen by the Booker judges purely because they themselves were attempting to extend the satire of the media and our voyeuristic desire to watch humanity wallow in the deepest, grimiest bits of its nature. Perhaps, even, their choice is a commentary on the current landscape of books as artefacts, as transactional bits of cultural capital purchased to sit prettily and authoritatively on shelves without being read–where possession is nine tenths of the law. Because that’s the best I can come up with here.

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing Vernon God Little from

Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA | Booktopia | The Nile

Other books by DBC Pierre:

Ludmilas Broken English by DBC Pierre Little to redeem it: DBC Pierres Vernon God Little

Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre Little to redeem it: DBC Pierres Vernon God Little

12 comments

  1. I usually pride myself on my calm and measured reviews, but Vernon God Little is an exception. Here you go: http://t.co/SbXvfCIM

  2. I'll never read the book but this is a brilliantly written review by @readinasitting: http://t.co/VzRVsP5F

  3. Thanks for taking one for the team. I own this book, and read maybe 10 pages and then put it down. Couldn’t do it to myself.

  4. Kudos, Stephanie! Well done for so articulately speaking up for all of us (there must be some of us anyway?) who found this book repulsive.

    I made it through a few more than 3 pages (but not many more) when this was chosen by my book club just after it had won the Booker Prize (which forever lowered my esteem of that award), but I couldn’t finish it and have several times over the years resented that as much of it as did, got into my head.

    I didn’t even know what to do with my (new, hardbound) copy. Put in a garage sale? (Nope, too embarrassed.)
    Recycle it? (Nope, hardcovers here are directed to the garbage heap.)
    Put in the trash? *hesitation* (Nope, I’m trying to make as small a footprint on landfills as possible.)
    Finally, I threw it in a bonfire the following summer along with a few others. Made a cheery blaze. ;-)

    • Stephanie /

      According to my Twitter and Facebook pages, most people seemed to dislike this one (although there are a few people who are passionate supporters of it). It’s interesting that it results in such strong reactions–no one seems to be merely indifferent to it.

      I have a new hardcover edition, as well (although, curiously enough, I did pick it out of a remainder bin), but I’m planning to get rid of it as quickly as I can so that it doesn’t taint my other lovely books. I’ll probably donate it to a local charity library, but I almost feel guilty about doing so!

      At least you got to roast some marshmallows with yours. :)

  5. Count me in as a passionate supporter. I probably love this book for exactly the same reasons that you hate it, which utterly proves that you can’t please everyone.

    I loved the grasping characters, the ambitiously aspirational community who all wanted to be famous and were best friends who were constantly showing off their latest aquisitions to each other.

    One of my favourite lines is when Vernon says he only has a ‘condition’ whereas some other kid has a ‘disorder’, which is a ‘get out of jail free card.’

    Yeah, it’s black and sick and funny as hell – to me. I read it at the right time in my life (before the kidlet came along) and I loved it.

    His second book, Ludmilla? Hated it.
    Actually, not completely true. Enjoyed (but didn’t love) the first 80% or so, then he made a VERY VERY BAD JUDGEMENT CALL and played something horrendously traumatic for laughs. At which point I wanted to vomit.

    • Stephanie /

      It’s fascinating the way that people can have such divergent feelings about a book, particularly when you overlap in your like/dislike of other books. It’s actually pretty heartening, or the literary world would be much more bland and boring. :)

      I appreciated the elements of the book you’re referring to, but I think for me it was the way that the author went about it that ruined it for me. I don’t think it’s enough for an author to be “Hey! Look, I’m being satirical!” — there needs to be some skill beyond the positioning of a book as a take-down of the world, and I just didn’t feel that this offered that in any way. I could see what was trying to be done, and the crassness of modernity that Pierre was trying to explicate, but I just felt that the entire book existed *beyond* the scope of the book.

      Oh dear, I think I’ll be giving Ludmilla a miss, then. Isn’t it interesting how readers have certain “no go” zones that will entirely turn them off a book?

  6. I think I looked at this back when it won the award, but never took it home. Actually, your review and the comments make me curious to look at it again, so don’t feel too guilty about your review. It was quite enjoyable!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, Laurie. I felt like a big meanie writing this, but, oh, this book was just not at all right for me! I’d certainly be interested to hear your thoughts if you do get to pick it up.

  7. Great review, Stephanie.

    This is on my TBR pile. I will give it a try but with some reservation. If it doesn’t work for me I just won’t finish it.

    Thank you for your thoughts :)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks, David. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, as based on the comments above you’ll either love it or loathe it!

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