Lights Out in Wonderland, By DBC Pierre
Nights of debauched greed delay a suicide mission
Sunday 12 September 2010
DBC Pierre's debut novel, Vernon God Little, was a rocket up the backside of literature when it emerged in 2003, a coruscating satire on American culture that managed to be both hilarious and deeply scary. The follow-up, Ludmilla's Broken English, was subsequently a disappointment that even the author admitted had been rather cobbled together in the wake of the success of its predecessor.
So it's great to see Pierre back on top form with another hefty slab of outrageous black comedy: a stupendously over-the-top romp based on the excesses of 21st-century capitalism and all its orgiastic horror.
For this last big blowout we are in the company of Gabriel Brockwell, a jaded, twenty-something, part-time decadent and anti- capitalist protester. The book begins with him busting out of rehab in the leafy English countryside, having decided to kill himself but still intending to go on one last humungous bender before he commits suicide.
More or less on a whim, he flies to Japan to meet his childhood friend Nelson Smuts, who is working as a trainee chef in a high-end restaurant. After a disastrous (and hugely funny) night in the restaurant involving local gangsters, poisonous blowfish ovaries, a teenage girl, an octopus and some mythically wondrous wine, Smuts ends up on a possible murder charge, and, through a series of misunderstandings, Gabriel winds up in Berlin trying to find a way to save his friend.
There, Gabriel meets the mysterious Didier, a Basque who organises outlandish, pornographic underworld banquets for the richest men on the planet – one-off bacchanalian events serving up such delights as confit of koala leg or caramelised milk-fed white tiger cub. As Gabriel's eyes are gradually opened to the true levels of debauchery possible in life, his priorities, and his decision to end his own life, come in for close scrutiny.
All of this is delivered in a narrative voice that is utterly compelling and always funny. Pierre repeatedly exposes the pretentiousness and self-importance of his targets, and he again proves himself adept at conjuring up place perfectly – both Berlin and Tokyo emerge fully formed in the reader's mind.
Stylistically, the prose is flamboyant and inventive, without detracting from the rapier-like satire, and Pierre gradually reveals a more serious side to his story, with an insightful analysis of the end point of capitalism, where greed has won out forever.
Ultimately, it is Pierre's debunking of the capitalist dream, as well as celebrity culture and the empty posturing of fine dining, drinking and partying, that make this more than just a wild-eyed rumpus of a book. If the ending doesn't quite match the dizzy heights of the build-up, that's a tiny gripe about what is otherwise a remarkably sharp and amusing tirade on the politics of excess, and an important book in these chastened times.
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