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PJE

PJE

Vernon God Little

Vernon God Little - D.B.C. Pierre Jesus has gone on a killing spree at Martirio High School, Texas, and his best friend Vernon is copping the heat. That's Vernon Gregory Little, our foul-mouthed little narrator:"I mean, the whole world knows Jesus caused the fucken tragedy. But because he's dead, and they can't fucken kill him for it, they have to find a skate-goat. That's people for you."Jesus in this case being a six-fingered teenager called Jesus Navarro rather than Jesus of Nazareth (in case you were wondering).So is this a sick book, or a satire on a sick society? You may well ask. The jury's out - probably getting a 'donut' and having their make-up re-touched ready for the close-ups when they hand down their verdict. In the meantime, here's my verdict: it fucken rocks.At times it reminded me of Louis Sachar's brilliant book Holes - except that Holes isn't full of swearing, or dripping with political satire; and whereas Stanley Yelnats found himself in trouble through the misfortune of being the wrong place at the wrong time, Vernon Little finds himself in an even deeper hole despite NOT being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For at the time of the massacre he was taking a dump - or, as the Guardian reviewer put it: "quite literally shitting himself." - but he's too embarrassed to admit it - and so now he is being dumped on from a great height. Well, as the saying goes: when you are in a hole you should stop digging. But what if everyone is trying to bury you in it? Not surprisingly Vernon decides to run away.Imagine a 21st Century Huckleberry Finn going on the run to Mexico (rather than down the Mississippi on a raft) after Tom Sawyer has gone on a killing spree. Okay that's a bit of a stretcher but, hey, times change. And just as Huck became entangled in the web of two con men (the duke and the king) Vernon becomes a pawn in the ambitious plans of Eulalio Ledesma, a phoney TV journalist. He wants to 'help' Vernon "paint his paradigm" before someone else does it for him - like the cops: "the jails are full of people who didn't manage their positions" he says. Mind you, given the chance this guy would turn Death Row into a Reality TV show...Inevitably, Vernon has been compared to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye (except that Vernon is bang up-to-fucken-date, a child of our times); but Craig Brown made a more astute connection in the Mail on Sunday when he said he hadn't laughed so much "since reading John Kennedy Toole's masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces". Like Ignatius Reilly the obnoxious anti-hero of Toole's book, Vernon is drowning in a sea of human stupidity, perversion and immorality. Americans don't seem to find it funny for some reason. Maybe it's because they are all fat (the characters that is).Don't get me wrong, Vernon may be innocent but he ain't no saint. He is a typically obnoxious teenage ingrate, resentful towards his Mom "it's like she planted a knife in my back when I was born, and now every fucken noise she makes just gives it a turn" and contemptuous towards her small-town friends, and...well, everyone really: "The fucken timing of these ladies is astounding. I have to say, like they have scandal radar or something. They foam out of the car like suds from a sitcom washing machine, except for Brad, who stays in back. He's eating a booger, you can tell."If you aren't laughing out loud and dying to read this book after that, then it's not for you (and you're probably a girl!)D.B.C. Pierre is the pen-name of Peter Finlay (the initials stand for Dirty But Clean) and Vernon God Little (A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death) was his first novel. Quite rightly in my opinion it won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2003 - the same year a President from Vernon's home state went on a killing spree in the Middle East. Mind you, the £50,000 prize money would only scratch the surface of the debts Finlay ran up trying to make a film in Mexico about the hunt for the lost gold of Montezuma - just one of many bizarre episodes in his staggering life story.Finlay was born in Australia, but grew up in Mexico City after his family moved there when he was seven. Twelve years later, after his father died, he went off the rails. He became addicted to drugs and gambling, and also survived an horrific car crash which left him with a reconstructed face. He spent some time recuperating in Spain with his mother, and there he met an American painter who he duped into signing over his flat, which he then sold, leaving the guy homeless and broke. No wonder 'Pierre' describes himself as a "conniving bastard" with "lurid debts". Plenty of good research material there for some equally spectacular novels in the future though. Let's hope Dirty Peter stays Clean enough to write them and settle those debts.{This review originally posted on ciao.co.uk in 2004.]