15 July 2017

Virginie Despentes: Vernon Subutex I (2015)

Although this is over four hundred pages long, it's only the first part of a trilogy which lives up to the kind of expectations which you might have of a writer and film director who made a film (and book) called Baise-moi (literally 'Fuck Me', but the French title was retained for a prissy Anglophone audience and readership). Despentes (recently welcomed onto the Goncourt panel) also wrote Apocalypse bébé, in which the main character blows up a literary crowd (and herself of course) with a bomb concealed in her vagina.

Vernon Subutex  (or at least the one third of it that I've read) is explosive in different ways, and the eponymous protagonist – who takes his first name from Boris Vian's pseudonym Vernon Sullivan and his surname from the trade name of the drug buprenorphine – is a former disc jockey who had a popular record store but has now fallen on hard times with the death of vinyl. What happens to people when they age?

What happens to Vernon is that he strives heroically in his attempt to conceal his new-found poverty and homelessness by inventing excuses to stay in old friends' homes until he becomes incapable of bluffing anymore and the inevitable happens: he's on the street with the other down and outs, rapidly learning how to survive down there.

Not that he's been forgotten though, as this is very much a chase story, people trying to track him down for a recording he has of an interview with a drunken Alex Bleach, the ageing rocker who latterly was Vernon's main source of income, but who recently died of an overdose.

On the back cover of this edition there's a quotation by Pierre Vavasseur from Le Parisien, in which he describes this book as '[A] comédie humaine for today that could well have delighted Balzac.' It's an interesting comparison, with its drugs, its various references to ageing rock stars, the frequent use of the internet, the ageing porn stars, transsexuals, lesbians (even La Hyène from Apocalypse bébé has quite an important re-appearance here), etc.

Wanting to be a porn star and disliking anal sex is like wanting to be a baker and being allergic to flour. Oh yes, there are many humorous moments in this dazzling book. I really must read the other two volumes.

My other Virginie Despentes post:
Virginie Despentes: Apocalypse bébé

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