Book Group: Not worthy of a Booker win, but one of a kind

John Walsh reviews June's book, Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

Vernon Gregory Little is a 15-year-old schoolboy from Martirio, Texas, where there has been a Columbine-like multiple shooting. The killer was a Mexican called Jesus; Vernon was his pal, and now feels the eyes of the town - and the TV news teams - settle on him, willing him to be guilty by association. Everybody - the police, the shrinks, the hacks, his mother's gossipy chums - wants a piece of him. And gradually, behind the surface bluster of his narrative, we hear his story. We discover he lives with his mother, Doris, whose relationship with a phoney Latino TV guy he resents. We get hints about his embarrassing bowel disorder. We hear of his crush on a girl called Taylor. Hints about a "second gun" Vernon must find, and cliffhanger chapter-ends, briefly suggest we're being made accessories to some wrongdoing.

This is a novel filled with secrets, lies, half-glimpsed moments of wisdom and evasions of the truth. Sometimes it's hard to know what's going on behind the flood of data. From the title (Vernon uses the "G" of his name to adopt alternative identities, including "Gucci" and "Gates") to the author's nom de plume ("Dirty But Clean Pierre" conceals the identity of Peter Finlay), it's full of names, of people and places and brands, of useless information, images of consumerism: the Wilmer Plan (a diet), the Bar-B-Chew Barn, Jordan New Jacks (a make of trainers)...

After page 100 or so, things settle down into comic knockabout, as Vernon heads for Mexico, pursued by the law. But at the heart of this novel, Pierre is attempting the satirical feat of representing modern America as it presents itself, in its yammering inconsequence, to a teenage neurotic with a shaky sense of reality. Known locally as "the psycho", he looks back at Texas and detects craziness everywhere - and passes it on in howls of frustration.

For Vernon's voice, the Australian Pierre constructs a near-American idiolect that's part Just William ("I spy an ole birthday card from Mom amongst my chattels"), part Holden Caulfield ("Next thing you know, my goddam heart stops beating anyway. Just clean stops in its tracks, the whole damn thing"), part trailer-park, with moments of rhythmic originality that are DBC Pierre's alone: "Hot grasses heckle my face on the way up the hill; skeeterhawks twitch through the air, but dust is too bored to rise up".

Vernon lives with a selection of psychic knives sticking into his back, given the occasional tweak by his mother and by figures of authority. In his post-shooting adventures, we start to care for this beleaguered kid, negotiating his way through a world where he's presumed guilty, but no one knows his crime or the punishment he may expect.

I'm not sure Vernon God Little should have won the Booker last year; it's jagged and badly structured, and some crucial scenes are woefully under-dramatised. But as a close-up, jangling display of how it feels to be young and guilty in modern America, it's sui generis.

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project