Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Vernon God Little

My cousin Gayathri read Vernon God Little recently and reviews it on her blog. Her reaction, she says, swung between loving and detesting it: “If I had tried to write about it as I was reading, you would have gotten one of those scathing reviews one day, and a wordy exultation the very next!"

I read Vernon God Little more than a year ago. My reactions were the same on many counts, except I knew I loved it when I put it down.
I had been asked to review it for local magazine Wow! Hyderabad, and I remember putting off reading it for as long as possible. There is in me a deep-seated tendency to escape distressing material in all forms (never watch World War movies if I can possibly help it), and besides, this book came heavily praised, which meant the laborious process of wiping the mindslate clean of all impressions before I began.
I managed, and the book – like the best kinds always do – grabbed me and sucked me in.

This review (or a part of it) appeared in Wow! Hyderabad, January 2004. It was one of those 250-worders, then shortened at the page layout desk to 150. Here's my chance to have the other 100-odd words read.

Vernon God Little
DBC Pierre

Vernon God Little by the pseudonymous DBC Pierre is an astounding debut novel. Not that accolades have been slow in coming: the dark horse nomination won the 2003 Man Booker Prize and has been called the next thing after Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

Vernon Little is a 16-year-old adolescent caught in a bizarre dysfunctional world, where he can do nothing right. The location is Martirio, central Texas, and Vernon’s best friend, Jesus Navarro, has murdered sixteen fellow students before turning the gun on himself. In a town that’s seeking a ‘skate-goat’, the finger points to Vernon. Fear of embarrassment, the burden of family secrets and a curious sense of loyalty ensure the teenager can’t or won’t declare his innocence. What happens next actually makes sense in the media-obsessed, self-serving world Pierre creates. The boy is hunted, betrayed and captured. He eventually reaches an ominous address: Death Row.

The first person narrative rings with the voice of the confused and rather immature youngster. Vernon is profane, sullen and cynical; he’s also unlucky, vulnerable and pathetic. He sees his life in terms of a television show complete with ‘fate tunes’, and sees his mother’s emotional blackmail of him vividly like a knife she stuck into him and twists every now and then. Vernon God Little is a tragic story that manages to be bitingly funny. It holds up the mirror to our times where media images replace our realities by dint of sheer volume. It depicts what Pierre calls the “the breadth of human suggestibility.” In all, Vernon Little is an antihero who’ll have you rooting for him.

Sheetal Vyas

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