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Old 11th Aug 2004, 16:15   #11
Jerkass
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Trying to get a little more discussion going before the details slip from my mind completely...

I must disagree with you, Col, when you suggest "there were only a few cracks where I felt it wasn't playing for real." I suppose I'll preface my disagreement by saying that this book clearly was intended for a non-American audience, and particularly for one likely to be open to some sport at the expense of 'typical Americans.' Although I am American, I'm all for that sort of thing, personally, and I do quite a bit of it myself. That doesn't mean, however, that when someone takes a few easy and obvious shots at Typical America (oh, we eat a lot and have a fascination with television, do we?), that he is making anything resembling an illuminating or incisive point.

So, anyway, large portions of the book were beyond the realm of the squarely believable. For one, the rather important character of Lally can hardly be believed, almost from his introduction. He makes a steady progression toward the less believable side of the scale from there. The story went from mildly amusing to downright silly for me, once television viewers started voting upon which death row inmates were to be executed next.

Going back to characters for just a moment, I'm looking at my notes here, and one of them says, "There isn't a real character in the book." I wrote that note after the first act (I had written, at first, that Judge Gurie was the only believable character, but I scratched that out after finishing her section); probably there was a believable character somewhere in there afterward. The prison inmates, for example, seemed believable, thinking back on them...but, then again, they were just Standard Prison Inmates You Might See In Any Film. One of them quite clearly was Morgan Freeman, for example.

Stopping there, I'll repeat again that the author quite clearly wrote this with a particular audience in mind...and I am not it. I've written articles very much like this, intended for a UK audience--feeling quite secure that, although I might hope to make an incisive point somewhere in the article, I easily can fill it up with simple, obvious amusements that will keep the reader going, just in case I never say anything worthwhile. VGL strikes me as a longer version of this. Minus the incisive point somewhere in the middle.

As I said in my first comment on VGL, the book is not without merit. The plot surprised me several times, and about one in ten of his continuous attempts to impress readers with a clever turn of phrase really, REALLY came off. Revolutionary commentary on small-town American life? No. A novel, penetrating swipe at American society, or even at human nature in general? No. Worth reading? Just about, in a darkish, television sitcom sort of way. Worthy of winning a prestigious award? Well...as I understand it, the Booker Prize usually shortlists four excellent works and hands the award to a fifth. Makes me slightly nervous about just purchasing Life of Pi, after this one, although, if VGL is a reliable guide, at least it will be a reasonably enjoyable read.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 8:52   #12
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I think I am in the targeted audience, but DBC missed by far in my case. BTW, here the mystery of his pseudonym solved. Dirty But Clean - oh God.

VGL has been labelled (by a Booker jury) as a black comedy. I suppose it really doesn't matter that the book is seldom funny, if at all. Unless of course one thinks that hypocrisy, rampant consumerism, obesity and American South are hilarious per se, and whatever is written about it must be funny by definition. No, I think this label is rather a demand that readers should make all kind of allowances for VGL. Poor characterisation? Clich├ęs? But it's a comedy, not a realistic piece! Unfair? Chill out man, you can't take a joke?! Intellectual emptiness? God, why are you so serious, it's a comedy!

And this is really sad, because quite many times throughout reading I found interesting things and thought the book was going in the direction worth going.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 10:08   #13
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I'm finding the opinions here interesting since I had so few problems with this book. Often I read a book and start analysing what the author was trying to do - ie. was it a comedy/satire/insight etc, as has been mentioned here - but for some reason I detached that critical part of me when I read this (perhaps a valid reason why some think this book shouldn't have come near the Booker, let alone won it).

Contrary to some of the reviews above, I found the book very funny (as did Mr. Colyngbourne) - not in a laugh-out-loud way and not, I think, from the satirical stuff about small-town Texas but from Vernon's character and way of expressing himself. He was in no way as profound as Holden, but I did view him as a Holden Caulfield character, complete with disappointing teachers and deceased friend/brother and 'innocent' friend Ella/sister Phoebe.

Yes, his turns of phrase did pile up too much and some just didn't work at all ( 'ovaries hitting oatmeal', for one). Occasionally you could hear a wisdom or an English (or Australian) turn of phrase that would never have come out of Vernon's mouth. The 'I've had me a learning' moments, the 'Vernon G----- Little' theme stacked up too much, but the whole swing and pace of the story meant you could overlook this either as Vernon's or the author's excesses.

Lally (and his story) were ludicrously unbelievable but I read the story without feeling that we were necessarily in the real world. I'm just not convinced that DBC was setting out to write an authentic tale of high-school massacre etc. so it didn't worry me when he didn't stick to the margins of serious-land.

Honestly, on first reading, I loved VGL, and got on with the narrator, found him very sympathetic, and *okay, you'll jump on me for this* whooped out loud when he didn't get executed (and the whole story turn out to be written by him in his head in that last impossibly long milli-second before he dies). I'll read it again some time and find out whether it stands up to my initial impressions. Maybe not. Maybe it shouldn't have won the Booker but I am far from unhappy that it did.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 10:57   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colyngbourne
I'm just not convinced that DBC was setting out to write an authentic tale of high-school massacre etc. so it didn't worry me when he didn't stick to the margins of serious-land.
I'd agree there. I'd also be happy to point out that I wasn't overly fussed about his representation of the vernacular; 'fucken', 'ole', etc. Not bothered with either. Like, whatever (I really liked Taylor/Tayla/Tey, by the way).

What did bother me though were the endless riffs on the same theme. Americans watch TV; Americans buy gadgets; Americans bitch about their shallow neighbours; Americans blah blah blah. It's not really new, is it?

I became very bogged down in the interminable 'comic' permutations of Vernon Literary Conceit Little trying to get out of Martirio and heaved a huge sigh of relief when he finally decided just to walk off into the night. Right, I thought, now we can get on with it. And it did sort of pick up then; the Mexican sequence was entertaining and well-paced, and the courtroom scene flew buy, for instance. But, I never really felt too much sympathy for the lad, and really wished we'd seen more of Ella (for example). Not as much as Mr Deutschmann saw, but hey.

There were some great phrases early on:

Quote:
He rips the cable from the wall. All breathing in the room gets canceled, along with platelet aggregation and whatever else your body does for kicks.
And there's a decent one of those every page or so, but there are - as I think we've all said - an awful lot that don't work.

Ultimately I ended up frustrated with it, and glad that it's over, but I'd admit to a few neat jokes and a swift sense of action here and there. And, you know, it's odd, because this and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time were in a BBC3 Battle of the Books recently and I found myself wanting to read one (VGL) and not the other, but having now done them both I can't help but recommend the book I didn't initially fancy, because that was ace.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 13:16   #15
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Have been meaning to mention, my favorite line in the entire book was the one in which he mentions a little shop in Mexico "held together by Fanta signs."

I've seen exactly that sort of shop in some remote village in the Caribbean several times, and I thought it was a great image.

I will say that my comments here have come out decidedly more harsh than I originally intended, and I did enjoy VGL more than they probably would imply. I think I would be more inclined to feel more benevolent toward it if it hadn't won a prestigious literary award; I think it's all right as an everyday work of fiction.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 14:18   #16
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Here's a review from the Beeb, from 2003:

Quote:
Pierre's dark humour disappoints

By William Gallagher
BBC News Online



DBC Pierre's novel, Vernon God Little, is among the six books shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize.

The strength of DBC Pierre's first novel is claimed to be that it is outrageously funny but there is both much more and somewhat less to it than that.

For there is no middle ground in its humour and no real range in it either so that if you find it funny, you find it hilarious and if you don't, it leaves you cold as stone.

It is off-putting to realise that you are not laughing as much as you should be, but there is also enough happening so that the novel keeps your attention, and can even survive whether you get its often puerile humour or not.

Vernon is a survivor of a Columbine-like school massacre but police and especially media attention puts so much pressure on him that he is no longer seen as a victim and ends up accused of the murders.

The logic in that does not bear close scrutiny but Pierre conjures the pressures so well that you are carried along with it.

With teenage angst coupled to very real pressures in a first-person tale, Vernon recalls JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar but does not have the bite of either.
And a News item post award ceremony. Interesting reading.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 17:00   #17
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Maybe I dislike VGL because I could relate to many things in it but didn't agree about details and didn't like the conclusion? For most part I really liked Vernon's way of expressing himself, but not always liked the things he said. I am quite critical about America but I am critical about my criticism too, and what was presented in the book is just self-indulgent mockery. And so on... I felt manipulated because the fragments that I found moving were canceled out by the cynical end.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 17:25   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m.
I felt manipulated because the fragments that I found moving were canceled out by the cynical end.
I confess (sorry Col) that I didn't like the ending at all. Not that he didn't die, which is absolutely fine of course, but just the pat conclusions, neat tie ups and happy ending bit (well, not for Lally, poor chap). The Forever Milli-second idea was nice, but did it all have to be so pink and fluffy?

I was hoping for an at-the-moment-of-execution suicide pact where his Mom and his Mom's dreadful chums all kill themselves and he's invalided back to find himself an orphan but finally, ironically, (kind of) responsible for a massacre.

Does that make me sick? Anyway, I found it rather twee.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 17:33   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m.
what was presented in the book is just self-indulgent mockery.
M--thanks for summarizing what I've been trying to say over fifteen paragraphs in three different messages, with half a sentence.
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Old 12th Aug 2004, 17:39   #20
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Perhaps after a hellish eight months of RL I was ripe for a bit of literary pink and fluffy twee-ness; I am quite prepared to find the ending unbearable when I return to it in a more naturally cheery frame of mind. And also to my mind at the time, the cliched ending seemed so much of an anti-cliche (which suits me) - how many times do we ever read a (modern) story which ends entirely to the protagonist's satisfaction? Almost never. Perhaps the milli-second thing works best, then we can critise VGL for being a big cliched softy. :D
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