Vernon Subutex One: English edition

Book
9780857055422

By Virginie Despentes, and Frank Wynne

avg rating

16 reviews

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Vernon Subutex was once the proprietor of Revolver, an infamous music shop in Bastille. His legend spread throughout Paris. But by the 2000s his shop is struggling. With his savings gone, his unemployment benefit cut, and the friend who had been covering his rent suddenly dead, Vernon Subutex finds himself down and out on the Paris streets.

He has one final card up his sleeve. Even as he holds out his hand to beg for the first time, a throwaway comment he once made on Facebook is taking the internet by storm. Vernon does not realise this, but the word is out: Vernon Subutex has in his possession the last filmed recordings of Alex Bleach, the famous musician and Vernon’s benefactor, who has only just died of a drug overdose. A crowd of people from record producers to online trolls and porn stars are now on Vernon’s trail.

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Reviews

25 May 2018

Writers’ Reading Group
Group review
When we were chosen to be one of the six groups to shadow the MBI2018, we all felt a great sense of privilege and, as time went on, and we came to understand more about the newness of the Prize, this feeling increased- along with a sense of responsibility to the writer/translator team of the book we had been allocated, Despentes’ Vernon Subutex 1.
We were very pleased indeed to have been allocated this book, because we all felt that it was controversial- but also because, if we were to be also discussing the quality of the translation, we were likely to be able to reflect on it in an informed way, as some people in the group spoke and read French at a relatively high level. I am lucky enough to have French friends who love reading- so I set up a mini Writers’ Reading Group in France- who fed back their impressions of the translation and the writer by email, which we have submitted as one of our reviews. Through listening to their comments , and those of fluent French readers in the group, we learnt all about French slang “ argot” and also the French language of sub culture- Verlan- in which the letters are reversed or mixed up- as in “meuf” for woman ( “Femme” backwards). One of the French reviewers noted that “woman” in the English translation didn’t convey the strength of “meuf” but that point leads to the whole question of how you translate Verlan at all. At other points in the book, however, Frank Wynne does offer a brilliantly creative version of Verlan through quasi Chaucerian or language- such as to “humblebrag” for boasting and “logorehhea” for verbal diarrhoea. Bernie noted that some of the language used by the Irish translator had echoes of James Joyce. The French readers compared VS1 to Trainspotting- which begs the question immediately of how Scottish idiom/slang in that book was ever translated into other languages.
The Writers’ Reading group submitted 10 reviews on the book to the Reading Agency’s website- all of which pick up different points and give wonderful expression to the breadth of our responses to VS1, including a creative response by Josie in the form of a poem- Vernon Subutex Dreaming- after Matthew Sweeney’s Fishbones Dreaming. When we had our group meeting about the book, Josie and Sweeney’s theme of the loss of freedom, matched our discussion about the character of Vernon himself. Is he, as Jackie said, “one of life’s takers?”- ie someone who benefited from the generosity of others –financially from Alex Bleach- and emotionally and sexually from the many women in his life? Is he a charming friend ( Ros discovered that Vernon is apparently French slang for “good mate”) who brings light into people’s lives through good conversation, good looks and brilliant DJ ing skills or is he like the centre of his own vinyl- a void, about whom we learn from other people’s varied perceptions of him rather than his own voice? Or is he a man of integrity- other people suggested, who sticks to his own “thing” ( his love of music) and who moves on and moves on until he becomes a real “hobo”, with nothing but his courage to opt out of being a wage slave in the fragmented, consumerist, racist and violent city Paris has become. Or is he, as Karam suggested, a typically infantile man who never grows up- and unlike some of the women in the book, can’t adapt to changing circumstances.
And- talking of voids at the centre, we also discussed the mysterious last video tapes of Alex Bleach, the beautiful, but possibly talentless dead singer- which are Vernon’s only possession, and, unbeknown to him are of huge value because no-one knows what is on them- and everyone fears ( and hopes?) is about them..
Our two hour discussion touched on many other topics, including Despentes’ dark comedy and use of multiple viewpoints- resembling film and TV – in which a dizzying array of shifting points of view are presented, reflecting the fragmentation of modern life, leaving us exhausted at the end of reading. Some people felt that the world Despentes depicts is too dark and outrageous, including as it does racists, domestic abusers of women, ex porn stars, professional internet trolls, people in gender transitions ( Male to female and vice versa) drug addicts and drug dealers but others felt that the book was written with a lightness of touch which never served to trivialise- but ultimately opened up possibilities of redemption and profound human contact, as opposed to the inhumane contact of social media. We learnt that Despentes was influenced by American series such as the Wire- compelling us against original expectations, to want to read the other two books in the Series, oops- trilogy, to find out what happens to Vernon, his friends and enemies- and, perhaps, what’s in those elusive Alex tapes..
Everybody in the WRG group felt that they really benefited from participation in shadowing the MB12018 prize –and would love to be involved in another project of this kind. Although we have been meeting together for a long time, it was felt that this experience has moved us into a new type of appreciation of books involving writing reviews, as well as sharing creative and critical responses in a group setting.
We have resolved to continue to include review writing amongst our activities, as we felt that it deepened our discussions and further enhanced our understanding of the skills of writing and translation. Most of all –we all really enjoyed our group meeting about VS1, - full of great observations and laughter and conversation about a great contemporary novel.
Respect- Virginie and Frank!
Polly Wright
The Writers’ Reading group

21 May 2018

VERNON SUBUTEX 1 by Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wnne
(notes and thoughts)

NARRATIVE FRAMEWORK
Unusual, but not unique or ground-breaking. Picaresque: Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749); Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (2008) where Olive pops up in other people’s stories (cf Vernon); Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) where characters appear at different points in their lives in different combinations. Plot development in VT1 very slight: essentially a teasing but thin thriller with Alex Bleach’s video-tapes as the McGuffin and Vernon as the central prop. In fact, the tease is never resolved as we must wait for subsequent volumes for any possible resolution. Someone likened this end-of-episode / series teasing to The Archers or The Wire / The Bridge, with some justification. The book’s substance and considerable strength rests on the portrayals of the huge cast-list of characters.
CHARACTERISATION
Given the author’s frenetic pace, is it intended that we should keep up with the web of relationships and Who’s Who without making notes? The canvas is not broad – it is not ‘Paris’ – the characters are from a narrow social milieu of drugs/sex/porn, and individuality is at risk of becoming blurred. Some are less differentiated than others: of the women, is it Emilie, Lydia, Gaelle, Celine, ‘Marcia’, Faiza who have slept / not slept with Vernon / Alex? - or had gymnastic sex with half of Paris? Some are more clearly defined: Sylvie (her self-delusion about Vernon); Pam (writing an “introduction to porn” for school-children); the Hyena (with her ingenious way to rubbish any opposition via social media); a late cameo of the “indeterminate female”, the frenzied power-house of the pavement, Olga.
I wonder if the men are more closely observed than the women, or are of more interest to the author? Very clear portrayals of Xavier (his memorable supermarket rant), Daniel / Deb (her move towards transitioning), Patrice (his complex compulsion to abuse his wife), Laurent and Vernon himself.
THEMES
Despentes is clearly fascinated by the part played by sex in relationships. Through Patrice, she says there are some things that women just don’t understand: “They want this utopian thing: friendship and closeness with guys. It doesn’t exist. Guys want to fuck, otherwise they would be talking to other guys”. There is certainly a lot of fucking going on which is so prolific that it becomes somewhat monotone. Every sexual combination is explored – or did I dream the reference to a goat? But there is occasional tenderness amid the fucking. Here is Emilie cutting Vernon’s hair; “She touches the crown of Vernon’s skull with her fingertips, gently urging him to tilt his head forward…She is overwhelmed by a tenderness that has nothing to do with desire…It is the tenderness of an adult woman yielding before another person’s fragility”.
Strong themes of loss: Sylvie’s grief at ageing and her receding beauty: “When you’re young, you don’t realise the cruelty of what is inexorably happening (…) Being trapped in this skin has become a tragedy, a terrible injustice, one she cannot complain about to anyone”. Sophie’s terrible everlasting grief over her son’s suicide: “Everything in the house fell into one of two categories; things that were there when Nicholas was alive and those they had acquired since…She dissolved into tears when the coffee machine stopped working. This machine that he had touched.” Then there is the unexpectedly tender rapport between Xavier and Olga over the death of their dogs: real grief from two hardened adults. This is beautifully observed writing. And of course, Vernon’s old life is lost; he must adapt to survive, and scarcely does so.
LANGUAGE / TRANSLATION
The vividness, range, freshness and energy of Depentes’ / Wynne’s imagery is breath-taking. She seems to tease out the minutest nuance of feeling and behaviour, with economy and often wit. From the Hyena “scorn is as contagious as rabies”; Pam: “She is often depressed by young girls who look like Mormons or wear stupid veils…fundamentalist story-book romanticism. It’s like they’re determined to spend their lives making ragouts and tartes aux pommes” (p.165); the Hyena (of the grown-up Aicha): “…it’s an enduring mystery to adults that things that crawl around on the floor sucking on dummies can so quickly mutate into semi-monsters with size 42 shoes” (p217); Vernon: ‘rockers’ that go “straight from juvenile to senile without pausing at mature” (p262); “Vernon was in love. He was transformed into a little pack of marshmallows (p.294); Lydia on Kemar: “He’s built like a brick shithouse but his dick is no bigger than a Vietnamese spring roll: he’s ugly as a troll but he’s the best fuck in the world” (p148); Xavier on Olga: “Christian charity is all well and good, but extending it to the far-flung suburbs of outer fuckwittery is out of the question” (p319).
Occasionally there are less common expressions where the French original would be useful: “…he ended up going to one of those fuck-me-gently-with-a-chainsaw shrink sessions” (p252); “Vernon might have been dumb as a sack of spanners” (p248).
DETAILS: Punctuation is universally lacking semi-colons and colons: commas seem to suffice. Why? There is a lapse into Frenchness when there is a reference to making adjectives agree (p 105); during Xavier’s supermarket rant: “…just looking at him makes Vernon want to heave” – Vernon? (p63). But these are details.
OVERALL
This is an enormously enjoyable though challenging read – challenging because the reader is asked to “Keep up!” with the flow and complexity of relationships and the unforgiving exposure of the harsh underworld of sex and drugs. But the writing is compelling, sublime.

Jenny Cousins for the Writers' Reading Group
20.5.18

21 May 2018

Vernon Subutex One
by Virginie Despentes (translated from French by Frank Wynne)
(first published by Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris, 2015; published in English translation by MacLehose Press, London, 2017)

‘This is the third millennium, everything is permitted’ (p.108)
Readers of a certain age who, like the eponymous Vernon and yours truly, are ‘still trapped in the last century’ might reasonably expect to dislike this book. Initially, apropos subject matter, it does indeed live down to expectations. The opening chapters are packed with unsettling contemporary tropes: internet providers, phone contracts, pop-ups, hyperactivity, bulimia, nanoseconds, twitpic evidence, hook-up sex and virtual orgasms, and gaming habits that embed the mantra eliminate thy neighbour.
The twenty-first century is all here and it is already dystopic. In the dispiriting Parisian subculture depicted by Despentes, life is war, love is caprice, and what really matters is the wavelengths of algorithmic trading. Her characters hustle to survive in this milieu and many are jaded and nihilistic such as Kiko the information addict who dismisses people as roadkill, the Hyena who incites media lynchings for a living, and Vernon himself who takes and sofa surfs until he runs out of options.
Everyone is using - cocaine, each other, and even a handy little adreno-muscular stimulant known as Napalm that is ‘like drinking molten lava straight from the volcano’, an experience not unlike reading this book.
As the book progressed the stimulation was working its magic and a strange thing happened to this reader. Like Vernon with his unexpected transgender Marcia, she was falling in love. This feisty, searing, unsentimental book with its stunning language and vivid, shattered characters was seducing her. Maybe she was even falling for the book’s author who gives of herself so generously in these pages by revealing an underworld that she knows from experience.
The brilliant, uncompromising writing alone has power enough to hook one in. From the outset, the direct, immediate language screams off the page giving a spontaneous and truthful feel to the text. Despentes riffs at times in courageous streams of consciousness, or lengthy single sentence poetry such as the wonderful finale. She uses images that capture meaning in a bite such as ‘booby-trapped memories’, or a comparison of sexual tension and knicker elastic, or the likening of attention span to a jumping bean. A character’s love for her father is like ‘razors in her veins’; another character is like ‘a sparrow trapped in a kitchen’, another’s mind is like ‘downtown Tokyo’. This is sublime, succinct writing that makes the reader want to cheer at each display of unerring precision.
Despentes also departs from the conventional storytelling arc and creates an episodic journal that feels like viewing dysfunctional Paris through a hallucinogenic kaleidoscope. The sense of a thrilling high is further enhanced by the audacious or even invented, often onomatopoeic, words that spring from the pages: sucky-fucky, Zblam, outer fuckwittery, lug, fucktard, blatherskite. Some of this energy may be rendered through the translating skills of Frank Wynne who seems to bring an Irish dexterity with language to the final text. Whether it be Despentes or Wynne or both, it certainly felt as though somebody had been reading James Joyce lately.
The love affair with this book was deepened by stirrings of compassion in the reader for Despentes’ apparently feckless, superficial characters. Subtly, the author weaves threads of humanity into the text that start to relieve the relentless brutality of it all. Vernon loves and loses for the first time, the Hyena forms quasi-maternal bonds with the daughter of a porn-star she once knew, Patrice speaks openly and with considerable insight about his wife-beating, Sophie grieves for her drug addict son, and the scene where two dog lovers mourn their lost companions moved even this non-pet-owning reader.
Despentes has achieved a minor miracle. This reader has changed her mind. All is not lost in the current millennium. Dark, uncertain, out of control maybe, but not lost. Whilst there is originality and freshness such as is displayed in this striking book, whilst writing like this can marry poetry and profanity, and tenderness can still be found in the midst of virtual reality, there is a future. Like Vernon, this reader had been sinking into nostalgia and finding aging tough. Now she wants to be around as long as possible to see what’s going to happen next.
She is delighted that this is the first in a trilogy. She wants more text, more Vernon; she wants it on film, in colour. It would be a triumph for the energy and unpredictability of the interesting times in which we live and for brave and truthful modern storytelling if the panel of the International Booker Prize felt the same.

By Bernadette Lynch

20 May 2018

Vernon Subutex 1: review
With the untimely drug-related death of his benefactor Alex Bleach, Vernon Subutex discovers that a massive stone has been dropped into the quiet waters of his self-absorbed life. The ripples are the subject matter of the book.
Subutex has been left behind by the digital age: his vinyl record shop Revolver has collapsed and without Alex’s support, he must now trade his laid-back, solipsistic existence for transient comfort and security with often barely remembered music contacts from the past. Subutex – brand name of a pain-relieving opiate- ‘gets by with a little help from his friends’.
His peripatetic adventures in Paris provide the framework for a series of individual cameos bringing together the backstories of these characters and their present life-styles. A mosaic of contemporary attitudes is revealed through this ever-shifting cast of players. Most have sacrificed their former wild Punk era selves, full of youthful idealism and free of social constraint, to settle for more sedate middle-aged compromises and social inclusion. Career ambitions, often ruthless individualism and the growing commodification of relationships cast an unflattering light on the dominant attitudes of contemporary society. There is an uneasy kaleidoscope of failed relationships, degraded individuals and empty relationships in the narrative’s downward spiral, exposing meanness, sexism, violence and racism. Sex, drugs, alcohol are an ingrained way of life, though not necessarily pleasurable. Poverty and homelessness are experiences on the streets. Subutex remains locked in his past, has remained true to his early values and refuses to sacrifice his freedom and individuality, whereas others become disturbing projections of their flawed selves. He continues to reject the trappings of society, asserts his freedom, defines himself as he chooses. It is his existential choice.
The development of the story is constantly engaging. Though Subutex frames the narrative, a traditional protagonist- centred plot trajectory is replaced by a postmodern, seemingly chaotic structure of loosely interconnecting characters and events. The use of Facebook messages in this becomes a key dynamic. Subutex has valuable interview tapes with Alex which constitute a filmic McGuffin. Subutex is a much sought-after individual: he has commercial value. The narrative threads morph and overlap constantly in interchanging planes of time and space. The text is rich in shifting points of view, refractions through subjectivities and reality distortions fuelled by drugs and alcohol. This verbal fragmentation and reconfiguration aligns itself with an innovative literary Cubism.
Initially this development stimulates and surprises at every turn before the sense of a checklist of emblematic characters and given situations begins to dominate. So… we have had the male chauvinist, the ruthless career woman, the sexual predator, the porn stars, the lesbian, now the inevitable trans, the violent wife abuser, now the right-wing thugs, then left wing idealist, the suspected Islamist extremist. The aim of offering a panorama of her chosen sector contemporary French society and associated attitudes is clearly a challenge and one which Despentes , for the most part, achieves through believable shifts. Throughout, she anchors the narrative in the dominant music of the day, drawing on her experience of the world of media.
The style is playful and witty in its record of this age. The wide use of street language, puns and satirical, humorous accounts of outrageous individuals and situations are a delight. Right-wing, homophobic rants become self-critiques; a less than well-endowed male ‘built like a brick shithouse but his dick (…) no bigger that a Vietnamese spring roll’ (p.148) ; a feisty homeless woman with a dog called Attila- the- fun, kicking the hell out of racist youths belong to the graphic novel tradition. Simone de Beauvoir finds a presence, too. Despite the representation of the selfish and antisocial in humanity, there emerges a clear empathy for the outsiders to convention with examples of kindness, tenderness and solidarity with the hapless and the oppressed.
Frank Wynne’s racy, carefully modulated rendering of Despentes’ challenging street French is admirable. The switches in tone and register bring out the characters clearly, mirroring Despentes’ technique extremely well. Some expletives seem more American than English, and do we say ‘dumb as a sack of spanners’ (p.248)? That said, the spirit of the original is captured wonderfully through this gifted recreation in the modern idiom.

Russell. Member of the Birmingham Writers’ Reading Group.

20 May 2018

This picaresque tale unfolds with Vernon Subutex waking up early, to gaze out of the window to watch others working the six o'clock shift. This sums up Vernon's approach to life: to watch it and wait, do little for himself, see what happens next, and hope someone can help him out when things go wrong. Before the end of the first page we learn that he has no food, no coffee, no cigarettes, very little money, his phone contract has lapsed, his unemployment benefit has been stopped, but he still has internet. He is careful that whatever else happens, his monthly payments for this luxury are met.
Vernon needs the internet to watch porn or to "bum around... looking for vacancies that corresponded to his profile'" in order to have "proof of his rejection." In an age of CD's and music downloads, jobs matching his profile as a Dealer of Vinyl Records are virtually non- existent. Despite being lazy and useless Vernon is a likeable, easy going relaxed sort of guy who wins over his various friends and the reader too. We have empathy for him particularly because he is down on his luck.
Like the reader Vernon doesn't know where he's heading and what's going to happen next, and that is the hook which keeps the reader interested.
We meet the characters from his earlier years, and follow him around as he moves from place to place and situation to situation having been evicted from his flat, another of his failures due to his not facing up to things. However, for all his roguish charm Vernon, like Paris itself, has a perverted core when it comes to his treatment of women. He has always slept around, used and abused and dumped his girlfriends, but there is something altogether vicious in his wanting to "unceremoniously fuck" this girl who is half his age, "up the arse" and "push up her jumper to see her childish tits squashed against the table" and wanting to hear her 'whimpers' should he threaten to withdraw. The female of his masochistic desires referred to in this situation is Celeste who he has met only briefly.
The search is on when word gets out that Vernon has video footage of an important, possibly the last, interview of the famous singer Alex Bleach. This is the second hook. No one knows what is on the tapes least of all Vernon who fell asleep when the recordings were being made, and was too apathetic to bother to find out afterwards, despite that Bleach up until his death had been Vernon's benefactor. You would think that he might care a little about what his friend was saying at the last.
Vernon, true to his character is oblivious to the Facebook pursuit of him, as he carries on about his daily business. Perhaps this is the parallel of the general public's oblivion to the sleazy underground happenings on the busy streets of Paris.
The writer brings to the forefront in all their naked ugly glory the various groups of Parisian society, who overlap and co-exist. Prostitution, sex-slavery, drugs, porn, right wing racism, homelessness, sadomasochism, transgender, domestic violence, cyber attacking of personalities, lesbianism, immigration, bulimia, politics of the music and film industries are just a few of the themes explored through the various and many characters. Despentes illustrates an amazingly wide and deep knowledge of up-to-the-minute issues affecting modern societies.
Perhaps the down side of the book, and which makes for taxing reading, is that in an attempt to include everything, the story has too many characters, most of whom are extremes in their individual behaviours, and are generally despicable and dislikeable - everyone of them with an untold story, itself needing further exploration. Or it may just be that we meet each new individual, but only learn their back story further along when it crosses paths with yet another unfamiliar character. Possibly they will reappear later on in the trilogy, and will make for a richer tapestry.
The unconvincing character of Deborah a.k.a Daniel gives this contemporary cutting edge book an unlikely Dickensian turn about: She had a sense of humour and was able to "focus on other people's stories" (because she was overweight). She once was fat, then she was thin, she had breast augmentation, later she had a mastectomy. It all turns out right in true Hollywood style when she changes from being an obese 'lump of fat' to something so exquisite that "she couldn't walk into a room without people thinking about sex." She has been a much loved (tongue in cheek) porn star, a slut, and the best friend a girl could possibly ever have. Drugs, tattoos and then a sex change, now She He Daniel is a stylish, designer-clothes wearing, successful Regional Manager of a profitable fake cigarette business; fake being the metaphor for Daniel himself. Here is the Dickensian ending: Daniel can't just be a shop assistant; he has to be the slick regional manager with lots of money. He knows what a woman wants from sex, having had it done to him by 'the finest stallions', and as a man he knows how to fulfil a woman. He is now a back-slapping man friend. Everyone loves Daniel. He loves women, and best of all "Daniel is in love with Pam" his very best friend. He's also good in the kitchen, which is handy because Pam "never really cared about housework." It's beginning to sound like a happy ending. Could she, he, they, be more perfect? Why couldn't Deborah or Daniel have been ugly, or unsuccessful, or depressed, or anything other than perfect. The biggest faux pas? Or is he being groomed for the next block buster movie or popular television series? I can already visualise what She and He will look like and how they will behave.
An explicit never boring portrayal of modern and changing human behaviours. It's not all sex, drugs and violence - rock and roll taking a bit of a step back with the death of Alex Bleach and the closure of the record shop - the book is also in touch with the gentler side of humanity and its contradictions. Xavier's mother has lost a son. She is entitled to never get over it. If she is over caring of Vernon it's because she needs him, even more than he needs food, warmth, and shelter. He refuses her offer of accommodation despite his previous acquaintance with her. He knows of her loss. Is her protecting her or himself? Xavier cries over the death of a dog, though he wouldn't give a homeless human a second look. He is a tough guy shouting his mouth off, yet won't stand up to his wife in defence of his grieving mother's desire to hold her own grandchild. He is content to deprive his mother of the little joy she could still have. Lydia Bazooka has been a faithful fan of Bleach, but is unfaithful to both her partner and girlfriends by sleeping with all of their husbands.
Disadvantaged, dispossessed, degraded they are all there in Paris. There's a slot for everyone. Give me the France of Marcel Pagnol any day, with his wonderful dialogues and tear jerking misfortunes. This is not the book I want to read. I don't want any association with such a base social order, but that is precisely the point. The writer makes you face the reality that you know exists, yet deny, by avoiding it. She tells of what is really happening now. She wants to prick your conscience, and she certainly has mine, therefore she has achieved exactly what she has intended. Abominable, brutal, sordid, depraved and violent; an ugly story, brilliantly told. Despentes shares real life experiences and her wide knowledge in matters which shape not only Paris but also our world, albeit a small section of it. I am intrigued to find out what is on the Alex Bleach tapes. I also have a surprising nostalgia to learn more about the characters I've been introduced to. This is a powerful book, and should be read alongside any regular Guide to Paris.
Kashmir Tutt for the Readers' Writing Group

20 May 2018

Vernon Subutex One
Birmingham Writers Reading Group

My review will look at the use of music in Vernon Subutex One.

Despentes weaves a clever colourful tapestry of music around the story of Vernon. Just as we dart from character to character, the book jumps from song to song, artist to artist and genre to genre.

From the off character’s are linked with music ‘Madame Bodard told Vernon how she had been to see AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses with her parents when she was young.’ There are obvious parallels with Trainspotting (in more than one way), Irvin Welsh is well known to have created playlists for each of his characters. Guessing Despentes has adopted a similar strategy.

The constant name dropping of songs and bands, showing off Despentes vast musical knowledge. She often uses this method to portray characters, capture a mood or place in time.

One of the best examples, is when Vernon once again ends up on the streets. Finding shelter at Kiko a filthy rich bank, with no possessions apart from a iPod Vernon becomes resident DJ. Spinning tunes he becomes known as DJ Revolver, and we see a glimpses of ‘The Old Vernon’. Party-goers are pushed from pillar to post by ‘DJ Revolver’, reading his audience perfectly knowing exactly what to play. He goes from Britney Spears to Depeche Mode to Candi Staton, even daring to drop in remixed Spanish Folk and then flicking back to Prince. This is one of the musical highlights of Vernon Subutex One.

Despentes life as a former groupie and rock journalist, is played out in the book. Personal insight and experience into the industry, works in her favour, allowing music to aid Despentes storytelling.

The official playlist that runs alongside the book, is a selection of songs mentioned in Vernon Subutex One.

Rita Patel

18 May 2018

Vernon Subutex Dreaming (Based on ‘Fishbones Dreaming’ by Matthew Sweeney)

A creative review

Vernon lay on a bench in the parc des Buttes Chaumont.
He was old, frail and smelt.
Soon the despair would have him.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he was with Marcia.
Brazilian, a trans goddess.
Beautiful. Classy. Worth more than a pussy.
Conned. She was not as free as he had thought. A filthy rich guy.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he was the Nadia Camanecui of the playlist.
Mixing Depeche Mode, with Britney Spear’s ‘Work Bitch’.
Hooked up to an ipod; Kiko’s DJ; Kiko’s residence.
Digitalised. Owned. Dispossessed.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he had a flat
Rent paid by the legendary Alexandra Bleach.
All the time in the world to listen to his music.
It started with Bertrand. RIP. Then Bleach.

He didn’t like to be this way.
He shut his eyes and dreamed back.

Back to when he was the proprietor of Revolver
The coolest record shop in Paris.
Sex. Coke. Booze. Sex. Coke. Booze.
A bastard to girls: a master of vinyl.

He liked to be this way.
He dreamed hard to try to stay there.

By Josie Anne Brady for The Writers' Reading Group

17 May 2018

Who is Vernon Subutex?

It’s almost a throwaway sentence near the end of the book, in one of those last hectic chapters where Vernon Subutex is sick, tired and almost dead. A group of new-Nazi bully boys ask him his name:

“He answered too quickly, he should have given his official designation, his French name.”

So who is Vernon Subutex? It’s only in the last few chapters that we really spend any time with Vernon, the preceding chapters given over to mini- biographies of his friends, associates and enemies: a Rabelaisian crowd of hipsters, druggies, musicians and wannabes, together with some more staid and, frankly, disappointed members of an erstwhile génération dorée of French slackers and eternal adolescents. Now nearing fifty and dispossessed of home, job and income, Vernon exists by sofa- surfing, handouts and occasional stealing. But we see him in the corner of our eye, almost, as he flits in and out of the lives of those other characters, smoking in cafes, deejaying at house parties, dog- sitting in family apartments. No- one has a bad word for him, he is “a good guy”, slim, good looking, with beautiful eyes, a “good lay”. Even Emilie, who is “pissed off” with him, softens, cuts his hair and gives him a place to stay. Is it coincidence that the Urban Dictionary describes a “Vernon” as a good friend? ( Alternatively, it is slang for pot.) So we tag along with Vernon as Despentes explores a Paris far from the boulevards and museums, a Paris where the old certainties are dying and an uncertain future looms. For if Vernon Despentes 1 is about anything, it seems to me that it is about change and uncertainty . Vernon worked in a record store, but the death of vinyl and the emergence of downloads put an end to that. Tightening up of the previously lax social security system has left him without income, he is guardian of a video cassette where nowadays last testaments are made via YouTube. The old world is obsolete, as are the old certainties The Left Wing is fractured, the Right is in ascendant. Times are changing, and not, in Vernon’s view, for the best:

“In his day, children were expected to become social animals, to learn empathy.......but then Facebook came along and this generation of thirtysomethings is made up of solipsistic psychopaths verging on insanity.”

This could be viewed as a jaded forty-something’s raging against the youth of today, but the shockingly selfish, misogynistic and racist views expressed by various characters show that Vernon is not far off the mark.
As he totes his backpack from one friend or acquaintance nice enough to give him a bed or a sofa, we meet the inheritors of the social changes won in the Paris social upheavals of May 68, when Vernon would have been a toddler. Published just before the Charlie Hebdo massacre of 2014, another event which shook Paris’s idea of itself, the novel explores this feverish atmosphere, when those who, like Vernon, cling to the old “outsider” way of life are being outpaced by a new, harder, materialistic mores, and by an increasingly fractured society where the New Right ( so much like the Old Right) is gaining currency among the young.
I am also struck by the theme of death in the novel. It begins with the death of Alex Bleach, Vernon’s benefactor, which sets in motion the narrative arc which sees Vernon, adrift, searching for himself, and the other characters’ search for Vernon and his tapes. Sophie, the mother of his boyhood friend Xavier, loses her son to the drugs which Vernon and most of his acquaintances seem to hoover up with few effects. This chapter is one of the most poignant in the novel , and I feel Despentes captures exactly the bleakness of losing a child too young, and the sense of betrayal in living after him and life carrying on:

“Every lightbulb changed was another handful of earth on his coffin.”

Xavier himself loses a brother and, what seems more important to him, his beloved dog. Vernon’s rescuer in the scene where he is threatened, Olga, speaks movingly about the death of her dog, Attila the Fun. And at the climax of the novel Vernon seems at the point of death himself, but then achieves a sort of resurrection:

“He is not dead, indeed a nagging pain in his throat lets him know that he is very much alive. And ill. But happy, oh fuck, happy as a madman, happy as a lunatic. Facing him, he finds an open aspect, he is looking down on Paris from above.”

There then follows an extraordinary passage, where Despentes has Vernon looking down on the Paris he knows and doesn’t know. It is a list, a paean even, to the diverse occupants of this city, and provides a panorama of life and the possibilities of life, and a sense of hope that Vernon will prevail.

Rosalind Napier for the Writers' Reading Group

17 May 2018

Virginie Despentes is an accomplished provocateur. Her back catalogue, including the controversial “Baise-Moi” (“Fuck Me”), deals with issues of sexual violence, pornography, prostitution and addiction very much from an insider’s perspective. Indeed, Despentes is well-qualified in this respect as her life is reflected in the lives of her characters.
Vernon Subutex One ploughs the same furrow to great effect. Vernon, a former record dealer of some repute, has fallen on hard times because of the move from buying vinyl to downloading music but also, it has to be said, because he is a bit of a lazy bugger. He passively accepts the largesse of an old friend, rock-star Alex Bleach, who pays the rent on his apartment. He spends his time sleeping, watching porn on his laptop and surviving on instant noodles. “Loneliness had walled him up alive.” Then his old friends start dropping like flies: one to cancer, one in a car crash, another to a heart attack. Just when it seems that things can’t get any worse, they do. Alex dies, sending Vernon into freefall. “The tight covering he has kept over his fear is slipping – his skin is exposed.” For the reader, the hidden Paris, the city beneath the city, is exposed and it’s not pretty.
Vernon finds himself out on the streets with the few possessions he can carry. These include three “confessional” videotapes made by Alex on his last visit. As Vernon’s life disintegrates, straining the hospitality of one friend after another, there is an unholy scramble by various individuals to get hold of the “Alex tapes” This involves a dizzying array of characters from a Paris rarely seen by visitors to the Louvre: transsexuals, ex-porn stars, professional internet trolls, drug addicts. Here is Xavier who fantasises about shooting Jews, “beardy little hipstellectuals”, women with ugly thighs or sagging breasts, but is scared of his own wife. Here is Kiko, a wealthy trader who hosts drug-fuelled parties and is nauseated by “the cultural habits of the poor”, like using public transport and buying clothes in shopping malls. Here is Aicha, a devout Muslim, who discovers that her dead mother was the famous porn star, Vodka Satana. And yet, in this particular circle of Hell, humanity and courage manage to break through in unexpected ways and are demonstrated by the most unlikely of people. The novel ends with a devastating example of just this.
This is not really the end though. This is the first book in a trilogy and, if we can stand the pace, we will have to read the other two books to find out what happens to Vernon now he has reached rock-bottom and to discover exactly what might be on those tapes.
Jackie Beavan For the Writers' Reading Group

16 May 2018

I read “Vernon Subutex One” along with other members of the Birmingham-based Writers’ Reading Group. We enjoyed the privilege of being chosen to shadow-read the novels shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018 and this was our allocated text.

I read the English version. Frank Wynne has done a wonderful job. I wasn’t conscious of reading in translation. The language was spirited and unstilted and the sense of place and character vividly conveyed.

This book has a cinematic sweep and a cast of Dickensian grotesques. Vernon, rendered homeless by the death of his benefactor, rock star Alex Bleach, works his way through a long list of friends and acquaintances in search of shelter.

There is humour: deceptively gentle in the first pages –
Mme. Bodard working from the ‘cramped cubicle where she killed off houseplants”, longs for a paediatrician to diagnose her sons with ‘some form of hyperactivity that might justify sedating them”. It rapidly becomes darker and more troublesome. We smile in recognition at Xavier’s frustration with his local supermarket, waiting until it’s full of customers to stock the shelves. The familiar sight of the husband sent out shopping with an impossibly detailed list, trying to find fat free, aspartame free yogurt that won’t make his wife “fart like a gasworks.” And who hasn’t fantasized about taking a pot shot at all the idiots going out of their way to make getting through the day more difficult and unpleasant? It does though become distinctly uncomfortable when the chosen targets are “lazy ragheads” or “the Yid in the fright wig with the repulsive tits that hang down to her belly button.”

Generational and cultural norms are upturned. A father is more disturbed by his daughter embracing religious faith than by the knowledge that his erstwhile wife starred in “hot double penetration porn videos.” A mother is scornfully disappointed at her son’s relationship with a sensible, practising Christian.

Gender is played with, ingeniously. Deborah becomes Daniel “just to piss people off” and is annoyingly happy. Vernon falls unashamedly in love with the most feminine, elegant, beautiful, sophisticated -and transgender- Marcia.

.Expletives are frequent and creative- we have clusterfucks and fucktards, dickwads and fuckwits. The soundtrack pounds. The spotlight moves around as Vernon gradually exhausts his supply of sofas on which to surf. The pace is frenetic.

There are moments of humanity and unexpected insight. Patrice, the wife beater, making no excuses for himself, but unable to change despite the “fuck -me -gently –with- a -chainsaw shrink sessions.’ Appalling Xavier and vagrant Olga bonding over grief for their dead dogs. Bereaved mother Sophie, kept away from her granddaughter lest she contaminates the child with her misery.

However, such moments are fleeting and a grim perseverance is required to keep reading. Misogyny, prostitution, greed, political absurdity, bigotry and rampant self - interest are pervasive.
It is difficult to care very much about any of these remarkably unlikeable characters. Thuggish Xavier, violent Patrice, objectionable Laurent, for whom “discourtesy is a precept.”
The Hyena, casually spreading online poison and ruining lives.
Our anti – hero, drifting through life with a complete lack of spirit, incapable to the end of “taking hold of the reins of his own machine”. His deplorable attitude to women and the way he shamelessly takes advantage of them. He treats Alex’s ex-lover Sylvie quite dreadfully- but she’s pretty dreadful herself, enjoying her girlfriends mainly for her ability to rip them apart as soon as they’ve left, and sleeping with all their partners, to cure the jealousy brought on by their happiness.
Sophie’s grief renders her toxic- not only does she not want to recover; she wants all families to be as devastated as hers. She hates to see people happy too.

It’s not the sex, drugs, or general deviance that make this a shocking story. It’s the nihilism.
The “dreary sense of waste” felt by Vernon in the opening pages persists. This is a nasty, brutal world whose inhabitants largely deserve each other and their fates. Will there be redemption for them in books two and three? That seems unlikely. Will I be reading them to find out? For all the verve and brilliance of the writing, I think that’s unlikely too.

Jackie Hotchin for The Writers' Reading group

16 May 2018

Despentes

Vernon Subutex One

There is a condition called ‘Paris Syndrome’ which describes the shock that tourists, (such as Japanese) experience when visiting and expecting an ‘I Love Paris’ pleasure - but come instead to witness the reality of 21st Century city turmoil. This could refer to any city.

Despentes holds a mirror up to society in much the same way as we are confronted in ‘Trainspotting’ or ‘Clockwork Orange’ or in the bitter burlesque of Hogarth’s satire. It is a biting portrayal built on mob fashion, the importance of music as an industry, and trends in salacious gossip and pornography. ‘Everyone has a past and a story’.

The ‘hero/anti hero’ Vernon is a naive innocent who happened to have his first career in the whirlpool hub of a record shop - back in the day before ‘on line’ trending blew that away. Now he has lost his place in time, friends have been successful or not, and he, since 2006 when he shut up shop, has drifted down, mostly unemployed. ‘ Only when you get old do you realise that the expression “fucking hell but time flies” most appositely describes the workings of the process.’ But he holds - by chance - the last rambling ‘will’ of a dead ‘name’ who has the iconic status of one remembered as ‘music’ in a collective past. Alex Bleach shocks the present with the news of his death - (probably by his own hand) - his role here is as a Momento Mori to the self obsessed, sychophantic world of ’now’. Vernon is to be pursued for these tapes by those that seek wealth in the ‘making over’ of this ‘name’.

Note that throughout the book, ’tags’ are as typical as in an 18th Century satire - ‘Bleach’, ’Subutex’, ‘Vodka Satana’, ‘Hyena’, ’Kant’, ‘Attila the Fun’. There are a lot of funny lines here, plenty of places to laugh out loud while wincing at the sad state we are in. There are a few moments of tenderness, such as in the company of dogs - whose sad faithful lives, and their ending, display a worthwhile course in ‘being’. ‘Colette had beautiful eyelashes too. You have to be a true dog owner to notice these things. He can’t tell her to fuck off after what she has just said. It’s the basic principle of owning a dog: you talk to people you wouldn’t give the time of day in ordinary circumstances.’

Despentes manages to finger most of the ghouls in an un-altruistic society. Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Xenophobia, - a society of packs and gangs and self interest in which Vernon stumbles through as one who was once good at spinning the songs of the moment. Now there seems to be no music only a final silence as Vernon wakes to a cold pleasurable calm and gives an overview of sad lives - ‘I am a hobo perched on a hill in Paris’.

Maggie Markworthy for the Writers' Reading Group

15 May 2018

Review of VS1 by three French and one English friends of the Writers' Reading group

It must be said that the reputation of this author here in France is controversial, she’s regarded as a populist writer and the women with us had difficulty obtaining copies (they in fact never got them in time) as one of the main booksellers in our town refuses to sell her books.

So we started out with three French people who were sceptical to say the least. I’d no baggage as I’d never read anything by her nor had I seen her on TV where she’s regarded as something of a self-publicist. I therefore was guarded to start with as I related the story up to page 100, however my enthusiasm shone through I think. It was evident that I was finding the book enjoyable and had a growing admiration for the author’s work.

We discussed the fact that the translator is a man translating a book by a very out and proud lesbian author. It became evident to us that the author’s language, both Argo and descriptive, is more violent and ‘disrespectful towards her own sex than is the male translator. Is this because he dares not be? Discuss. For example when Vernon criticises the female in the benefits office the author refers to her as ‘une meuf’ (page 11, second para 2 French version). This is certainly not a polite term to use but the translator simply uses ‘woman’ ( p. 9. para 1). What other English word would be a more direct translation I leave to your discussion.

Is the converse also true? The translator seems to be more forthright when translating phrases referring to the men in the book. For instance, whereas Madam Despentes says, “Il n’oubliait pas d’apprécier à sa juste valeur la douceur d’une matinée ou personne ne vient vous emmerder. (p15 para 1, French version), Mr Wynne translates this as “He came to appreciate the true glories of a peaceful morning with no punters to constantly bust his balls” (para 1 p.12). Curious eh?

There were inevitably other differences. The translator is perhaps less subtle with language that the author when dealing with philosophical concepts but this perhaps makes it more readable for an Anglo-Saxon audience. For example the English version reads “He watched as, in slow motion, things began to collapse” (p7, para 3).
The French version is “Il a contemplé les choses s’affaisser au relenti, puis l’effondrement s’est accéléré” (para 3 p. 9/10 French version). It was felt in our discussion that ‘watching’ wasn’t a good translation, perhaps ‘contemplated’ would have been better.

However, by the end of our discussion those who’d started out as sceptics were very convinced by Mdm Despentes’ talents. She uses language in a new and different way throughout the book; it was felt to be almost a new genre. The use of expletives and ‘vulgar’ phrases are perfectly at home in this story. She’s an original writer who describes human feelings and delicate human situations in a direct and touching way. See for example the decline of Bertrand (p. 16, paras 2&3/p. 17, (p. 20 para 1/ . 21 para 1 French version).

She says things that are rarely expressed, she throws over political correctness in many things her characters say, yet somehow truth and beauty is revealed.

Her reference to the voice in the Big Brother house and the way society increasingly works is a brilliant analogy (p. 9 para 1), (la Voix dans la Maison, p.11 para 2, French version).

I’m sorry we weren’t able to do more comparisons between the two versions. This must have been a difficult task for Mr Wynne and he certainly deserves a prize for his work. We made a comparison between Vernon Subutex and ‘Transpotting’. As I remember the latter was a much criticised Booker winner. Vernon Subutex would be too. If it wins then even snooty bookshops might need to sit up and take notice!

Richard Biddiscombe for The Writer's Reading Group

13 May 2018

“The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves.” George Eliot. 1859

Vernon Subutex is not the sort of book I would have read by choice. Set in post financial crash Paris the story revolves around two characters, Vernon Subutex the former proprietor of a defunct record store, and his now dead benefactor, rock-star Alex Bleach. Without anyone to pay his rent Vernon is evicted from his flat but the last time they met each other, during a drug and alcohol fueled bender, Alex recorded his ‘last will and testament’ in Vernon’s flat.
Vernon is unaware of the value of these recordings and has unwittingly, through a comment to a friend, become a major subject of interest on Twitter. As he sofa surfs, with Facebook friends and acquaintances, we meet an array of characters who exist along side each other in parallel universes; former musicians, ‘Parisian rich-bitches’, internet trolls, writers, producers, porn stars, Islamists, stock market traders, members of the far right, and the homeless. It is a portrait of Parisian life and not a portrait of provincial life, as we have with George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It is fast paced and libidinous on one side and on the other reveals a crushing desperation caused by shame, grief, loneliness, aging, and the hypocrisies of modern life.
Despentes, a former groupie, rock journalist and sex worker presents a writing style (albeit through the translation of Frank Wynne) that is staccato and easy to read, perhaps echoing the Internet generation that figures so prominently in this book. It is compelling, at times brutal, pathetic and comedic. She uses multiple viewpoints to reveal her characters and renders them, with all their inconsistencies, in a way that is utterly convincing. This is not a book that I would have read by choice but I’m glad that I did read it. The real difference with Eliot though is not the style of writing or the subject, after all Eliot wrote about fallen women too and had the consummate ability to render the pains and joys of those who differ from her. No the real difference with Eliot is that it is Despentes, who is the outsider, the ‘other’ who is rendering the pains and joys of community she knows well.
All I could say after I’d read this book was “wow”.

Karam Ram for the Writers Reading Group
http://readinggroups.org/news/meet-the-man-booker-international-prize-reading-groups-2018

13 May 2018

“The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves.”
George Eliot. 1859

Vernon Subutex is not the sort of book I would have read by choice. Set in post financial crash Paris the story revolves around two characters, Vernon Subutex the former proprietor of a defunct record store, and his now dead benefactor, rock-star Alex Bleach. Without anyone to pay his rent Vernon is evicted from his flat but the last time they met each other, during a drug and alcohol fueled bender, Alex recorded his ‘last will and testament’ in Vernon’s flat.
Vernon is unaware of the value of these recordings and has unwittingly, through a comment to a friend, become a major subject of interest on Twitter. As he sofa surfs, with Facebook friends and acquaintances, we meet an array of characters who exist along side each other in parallel universes; former musicians, ‘Parisian rich-bitches’, internet trolls, writers, producers, porn stars, Islamists, stock market traders, members of the far right, and the homeless. It is a portrait of Parisian life and not a portrait of provincial life, as we have with George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It is fast paced and libidinous on one side and on the other reveals a crushing desperation caused by shame, grief, loneliness, aging, and the hypocrisies of modern life.
Despentes, a former groupie, rock journalist and sex worker presents a writing style (albeit through the translation of Frank Wynne) that is staccato and easy to read, perhaps echoing the Internet generation that figures so prominently in this book. It is compelling, at times brutal, pathetic and comedic. She uses multiple viewpoints to reveal her characters and renders them, with all their inconsistencies, in a way that is utterly convincing. This is not a book that I would have read by choice but I’m glad that I did read it. The real difference with Eliot though is not the style of writing or the subject, after all Eliot wrote about fallen women too and had the consummate ability to render the pains and joys of those who differ from her. No, the real difference with Eliot is that it is Despentes, who is the outsider, the ‘other’ who is rendering the pains and joys of community she knows well.
All I could say after I’d read this book was “wow”.

11 May 2018

> Reading Vernon SUBUTEX in French is akin to being dragged screaming and shouting through the streets of Paris. Larger than life characters, colourful nervy style. Its edginess reminded me of Spiral which also revealed a Paris under belly, a Paris that tourists don't see.

> Despentes' style is fast paced and compelling. She evokes a lost world of post punk Paris, through the eyes of her anti hero Vernon. He was tres cool then but a bit of a slob now at 45. This is a dark novel - a roman noir Vernon is surrounded by the ghosts of his youth from that rock and punk music world. In one interview Depentes says she is interested in what's become of those idealistic 20 year olds. She says one of the hardest things at 45 is not so much seeing oneself getting old, but rather seeing other people succumb to ageing. This is especially true for the music industry. "A 20 ans, ils avaient tous un look, et puis ils l'ont perdu."
>
> The women in the novel are enigmatic and mysterious. The men, if they haven't died off, indulge in vitriolic rants. They variously rail against gay men, the unemployed, people with kids (Un mec avec un bebe est un mec foutou.), people with dogs, the old, the rich, the poor and the whole of the Middle East. They may have been "des mecs cools" back in the day, but now they come across like grumpy old men.

For Despentes, " there's something of the little boy of 50 in certain men.....and the difference between men and women is that women change. Girls react to life's challenges." She says "I know very few women who would pass the time playing video games like Vernon did when his music shop closed down"

The book crackles with wit and insight. The language is colourful and rich. One female character is described as"la reine des casse-couilles." (queen of ball breakers). It's packed with the language of different sub-cultures and is a true reflection of contemporary urban France. Despentes' writing is peppered with argot, including verlan or French back-slang. In verlan, letters are reversed or mixed up. (The word verlan itself is created from l'envers which means back to front.) For example, la meuf is verlan for la femme and la bouteille becomes la teibou.

Despentes says she was much influenced by Raymond Chandler, underlining how his characters had an "attitude". She also relates how in this book she aimed to draw a map of society, criss-crossing the different social classes. She liked how this was done in the celebrated U.S. TV series The Wire.

Vernon Subutex is dark but also full of comedy and wit. A hugely enjoyable novel for our time.
Marianne Craig for the Writers' Reading Group -shadowing the MBI2018

08 Sep 2017

SJ2B House of Books

Set in present day Paris, Vernon Subutex 1, flips back and forth to the 1980's using as its vehicle a multitude, and diverse cast, of characters with equally polemic personalities and viewpoints.  A real sense of place and time is given with the music and artists of the day being dropped into conversations or scene setting, with present day being referenced by social media useage, texting, and tv series such as, 'The Walking Dead'.

Vernon an ageing 51 year old ex-record store proprietor is evicted from his apartment and thrown out onto the streets of Paris with just a couple of videocassettes and 1000 euros.  We follow him as he sofa surfs through a list of long-lost friends.  For one reason or another these arrangements are short lived, and finally running out of options Vernon ends up living on the streets.  Less plot and more character driven VS1 is about the race for possession of the videocassettes of Vernon's friend which were recorded shortly before he died.

A vast amount of information is spewed out at the reader as 'food for thought' via scenarios and viewpoints of its characters on various subject matters including; the music and publishing industry; journalism, sex, drugs and alcohol addiction; politics of the porn and prostitution industry; body image and eating disorders; transgender vs transvestism; domestic violence and abuse; religion, racism, misogyny; social media; urban poverty, cultural unrest and street violence.
Not a word is wasted in her sharp and often caustic dialogue which is tirelessly force-fed to the reader resulting in a perceptiveness and clarity of understanding of her characters, their behaviours and driving force that propels them to think and act in the way they do.  It certainly made me look at certain sections of society in a new light and at how my attitudes towards the homeless in particular had become hardened. A view I have since redressed.

Despentes writes from personal experience and perspective on probably all of the above giving a poignant, authentic and disturbing feel to the story. She writes with passion about her characters and knows instinctively what makes them tick, and how to draw the reader into their world with a semblance of understanding and compassion for them too.  Bursting with relentless manic restlessness, spot-on characterisation and astute observations of the social economic climate, VS1 is written with credibility, authenticity, and is all the more powerful and compelling for it.

With sexually explicit dialogue, imagery, and no-holds barred depictions of the seedy underbelly of Paris' society VS1 is not comfortable reading.  It's brash, funny, bold, compelling, and bang-on in its evocation of time and place, and packs a powerful punch on every page. I'm definitely up for more of the same and eager to find out what happens to Vernon in books 2 and 3.

Absolutely loved it...I was utterly blown away.

Disclaimer: I received a proof copy from the publisher for an honest unbiased review.

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