1001 books, 1001 Books to read before you die, Author, Book review, DBC Pierre, Faber and Faber, Fiction, literary fiction, Publisher, Reading Projects, Setting, USA

‘Vernon God Little’ by DBC Pierre


Fiction – paperback; Faber and Faber; 277 pages; 2003.

Did I like DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little? I honestly can’t say. It’s certainly weird. And it’s very wacky.

It’s a bit like Catcher In The Rye updated for the 21st century, except it’s slightly more off the wall, and I could never imagine Holden Caulfield, despite all his teen angst, suddenly finding himself on some mind-bending reality show on Death Row where viewers vote who’s going to be the next one to meet ol’ Sparky. Yes, I told you it was weird.

DBC Pierre came out of nowhere to land the Booker Prize last year. And like this novel — his first — he seems a bit weird and wacky, too. There’s an interesting interview with him here, which sheds some light on his background and where the seed of this book was sown.

I have to say that I was impressed with Pierre’s turns of phrase, his clever way with words and his inventive use of language.

Outside a jungle of clouds had grown over the sun. They kindle the whiff of damp dog, burping lightning without a sound. Fate clouds. They mean get the fuck out of town, go visit Nana or something, until things quiet down, until the truth seeps out. Get rid of the drugs from home, then take a road trip.

I think what I enjoyed most about Vernon God Little was the satire, the whole sending-up of small-town America (although I’ve never been to Texas, reading this book is exactly what I imagine it to be like, images and impressions cobbled together from movies and TV shows).

This is closely followed by the narrator’s voice. It’s unique and, for the most part, rings true. Even though the aforementioned Holden Caulfield had “issues” and was alienated, his problems and his views were tame by comparison. One gets the impression that Vernon Gregory Little DOESN’T HAVE A CLUE about how the world operates: he’s naive and gullible; he’s also highly manipulative and self-centred and he’s just a tad sex-obsessed; but he also has a health problem that keeps him grounded in an endearing kind of self-conscious way.

The story itself, which reads a bit like a road movie, is not so much plot-driven but character driven. Effectively it all happens in Vernon’s head. And the whole premise of a school shooting, which puts Vernon on America’s Most Wanted List, happens before the story even starts; you just get tiny “glimpses” of what actually happened on that fateful day, filtered through Vernon’s eyes, towards the end of the book.

What I didn’t like was the almost fantastical elements to it (especially Part V); they were riotously funny but a little ridiculous and because of that the story didn’t seem particularly believable. It also took me a while to get into the flow of the book; I think this is a read-in-big-chunks type of story rather than one you can pick up and read for small, intermittent periods.

All in all, an interesting and somewhat intriguing novel, but unless you’re an experienced “literary” type reader who doesn’t mind bad language, quirky characterisation and experimental story-telling, I’d say this one isn’t for you.

‘Vernon God Little’ by DPC Pierre, first published in 2003, is listed in Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, where it is described as a “black comedy written with a Texan drawl so intense you find yourself mouthing the words under your breath in order to catch their sense”.

5 thoughts on “‘Vernon God Little’ by DBC Pierre”

  1. This book has been sitting on my shelf for many months waiting to be read. Yet, it still sits there despite the rave reviews and hint of quirky intrigue. Your comments have made me decide to move the book from the “read one day” shelf . . to the “read one day soon” shelf. Darn it, I need more book shelves.


  2. Just read this so I thought I’d revisit your review – which I think is spot on. The voice rang really true, but the story ran out of steam as it got more fantastical and everyone getting their just deserts in the end was just a little too neat.
    I kind of enjoyed this book. I’m surprised it won the Booker. The all-too believable depiction of small town USA depressed me.


  3. Erm… I think the fantastic element of the last few pages is meant to be too neat in order to suggest that Vernon may be, in fact, dead or dying and these are his last thoughts.


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