Unwholesome but moral

Submitted by on 23 October, 2003 - 12:00

Man Booker Prize winner, by DBC Pierre (Faber)

DBC Pierre is the nom de plume of Mexican-Australian Peter Finlay. The DBC stands for "Dirty But Clean" which neatly sums up Finlay's debut novel.

It is a clean story because it is very moral story about truth, justice and all that. Vernon is a teenage boy falsely accused of shooting dead sixteen high school students. He has to prove his innocence in a crazy world and a small town world of Martirio, Texas. A small town under the pressure of a fame brought to it by a hundred media hacks digging and dishing the dirt about the tragic killing.

As Vernon sees it: "See Hysteriaville here? Science says there must be ten squillion brain cells in this town, but if you so much as belch before your twenty-first birthday they can only form two thoughts between them: you're fucken pregnant, or you're on drugs."

Vernon God Little is a dirty story - a series of unlikely and unwholesome events as told by Vernon, in his alienated-teen style, punctuated by fucken thises and fucken thats.

Vernon God Little is a satire but not a cool or precise one. It's a messy squall of a read. Nonetheless Finlay's ribald wit, high cynicism and even toilet humour manage to quite say a lot about things that matter; the nihilism of teenagers who commit mass murder, the politics of George W Bush, the Barbie-values of the American media, about rich and being poor, about North American racism against Mexicans.

Finlay's own life has been (and will for a while probably continue to be) much written about. We've heard he was shit-faced on cocaine for many years. After his family lost its considerable fortune he spent a great deal of time borrowing, lying, gambling and cheating - he once cleaned out a friend, leaving him homeless. But the people who have written about Finlay don't seem to have much to say why this book is so different from the usual Booker winner.

What stands out about VGL for me is the genuine neurosis of its author. Finlay is a real live fuck up and people like that are always much more interesting than, say, Martin Amis.

Given his past Finlay could hardly get out of bed and face the world if he did not wear his self-deprecation and guilt for the world to see. He says he has many regrets and "that is like rocket fuel for this kind of art". Yes indeed. Finlay's guilty conscience is like an invisible character in the novel. Through the tone, the language, the commentary we get to meet his guilt.

Finlay has, whether he intended to or not, written a book that manages to rescue American adolescence from its bad press. Vernon is not all Thrash Metal and embarrassing fantasies about girl's knickers. Vernon's story, his relationship with his now dead Mexican friend who did the killing, his widowed mother, his dead father and his growing sense of the reality of the world - all of this is extremely touching.

Score: 8/10
Reviewer: Rosalind Robson

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