Independent Book Group: Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre

Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor, introduces this month's book
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The Independent Culture

With his debut novel, Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre came from nowhere to win the 2003 Man Booker prize. Now, helped on its way by the publicity garnered from Peter "Dirty but Clean" Finlay's early career as a drifter, chancer and self-admitted swindler, VGL has sold in stupendous numbers. As for the overall merit and significance of Vernon God Little (Faber, £7.99), the jury remains firmly out.

With his debut novel, Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre came from nowhere to win the 2003 Man Booker prize. Now, helped on its way by the publicity garnered from Peter "Dirty but Clean" Finlay's early career as a drifter, chancer and self-admitted swindler, VGL has sold in stupendous numbers. As for the overall merit and significance of Vernon God Little (Faber, £7.99), the jury remains firmly out.

This scabrous, first-person testimony of a mid-Texas youngster banged up on Death Row after a high-school massacre pulls a fast one on its reader in several ways. "DBC Pierre" (ie Finlay) is an Australian-born, Mexico-raised and Irish-domiciled writer. He comes to small-town America as an alien observer, not a concerned citizen, and yet he wants to turn its culture inside out. Do we believe in Vernon's monologue as the "authentic" voice of feckless young America - and does it matter if we don't?

Some US papers scorned the book as a snooty tourist's one-dimensional take on a way of life that, in reality, adds up to a lot more than junk food, TV soaps and vengeful Old Testament justice. Could it be that the truth always hurts? You might argue that Vernon - credible Texan teenager or not - authentically expresses how much of the world now thinks of the Bush-voting heartland, with its twin lusts for consumption and retribution. Perhaps Vernon's backwoods hell of Martirio, Texas has its real life in foreign nightmares, not in native dreams.

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