I first heard of DBC (Dirty but Clean) Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’ in Uncut. At the time Uncut would deal with gritty detective stories or novels which satirise the American way of life and Vernon God Little fell into the latter category, I had already read Johnathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’ and Paul Auster’s ‘Timbuktu’, recommendations from the magazine which I enjoyed immensely so I gave this one a shot.
At first the slang bothered me a bit but after a couple of pages or so I got absorbed, It felt very relevant after all 2003 was the height of Big Brother and only four years passed after the Columbine Incident, two topics which the novel focuses on. Not to mention the whole book takes place in some fictional backwaters village in nowhere America. I loved it and eventually finished it in one sitting.
The book is about the title character, a fifteen year old boy who witnesses his classmates being slaughtered by his closest friend Jesus. Unfortunately as things go he gets blamed for the massacre and he decides to escape from his town of Martirio in order to lead a better life.
As it happens these escape attempts fail miserably (and they are genuinely funny) and Vernon eventually gets himself arrested by being framed.
The whole prison section is undoubtedly one of the most savage attacks on reality TV culture I have read so far. At first I thought that George Saunders was the king of that but DBC Pierre beats him. As the prisoners are put upon death row, viewers have to watch their antics from a 24 hour camera and then call the ward in order to vote off the prisioner who gets executed. It may sound grotesque, and it is. But in this authors hands you can’t help smirking a bit.
Vernon God Little (by the way his middle name is actually Gregory but it shifts into God by the end of the book) is definitely a modern Holden Caufield. Observant and wanting to see the purity of life and despite his sex crazed teenage mind, he does have a heart of gold with an odd sense of morality. Through Vernon we see what America is really like, consumerist , bent on self preservation and addicted to so called reality TV.Or not to be harsh maybe the whole world is like this.
DBC Pierre’s use of language is rich, unique similes abound on every page, Little’s slang and private language for his outer world is clever and the roughness of the book sometimes brings to mind Bukowski or Fante at times. He does evoke the gritty reality that these authors have represented in their novels.
I think the biggest accolade that ‘Vernon God Little’ has received is that it won the 2003 Man Booker Prize and I find that a triumph, considering that the majority of the winner’s have a ‘classic’ feel to them I find this one the black sheep of all the winners and I think that at some point or other the underdog occaisonally has it’s day and this is clear proof of that.