As usual after I purchased the book I put it out of my mind and then when I go to read it I just start without reading anything about the book and thus begin without preconceived notions. This works for and against me all the time, for this book it definitely worked for me because if I had read a synopsis I probably would not have read the book at this time (see paragraph 5).
For a Man Booker Prize winning novel it was relatively easy to read. (It also won the Whitbread Award for First Novel.) I haven’t read any others from the year, but Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (read 09/13) is of course on my list. Overall I think this book serves as a great conversation starter, but as I read it I had to wonder why it won the award.
Compared to many of the other Booker winners it felt lacking. Take for example other winning or nominated coming of age stories, such as Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Room, Never Let Me Go, or any other book with a child narrator, and Vernon God Little just isn’t up to par. I will say however, it does warrant a comparison to A Confederacy of Dunces (on Wikipedia). I can see the similar humor and writing style, but this, perhaps because of the child narrator, is preferable.
I had a couple of issues with the book, but the biggest was Pierre’s writing of the Vernon’s voice. (And I was not the only person who had this issue. Go read a few of the Goodread’s reviews for an idea.) The spelling of the novel was atrocious, and I get that it was part of the character’s personality and his voice, but it seriously distracted from the story. Perhaps, as an audio book, it wouldn’t have been so noticeable but ole for ol’ (Until there was a specific example that provided no room for interpretation I kept saying “o-lay”) and fucken instead of fuckin’ – and those are just the two that annoyed me the most.
This probably wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but in the last third of the book Vernon’s voice changes drastically and the lack of continuity really bothered me because it changes back again in the last chapter/epilogue. I understand Pierre was more than likely showing Vernon’s forced maturation over that last bit by changing his language and syntax, but then to revert to the pre-trauma language and syntax at the end? I don’t think so.
In contrast to the language issue, there is the apt and incredibly acute observation of the media circus in the book. As mentioned above, I didn’t re-read the synopsis and I probably would not have read this book now due to the recent shooting in Newtown, CT (and the (too) many other ‘mass’ shootings in 2012). And Pierre hits the nail on the head with this book’s extreme exaggeration of the media’s influence and necessity. All you need to do is search “Newtown” and “media” and you will see the firestorm of criticism and defense of how the media treated the shootings and the countless discussions for a taste.
Pierre takes the media and entertainment to a completely new level which, frankly, doesn’t seem that far off. Let’s think about it this way, we already have televised trials (OJ Simpson or Michael Jackson anyone?), obsessive and encroaching media (Princess Di’s death or Newtown?), glorification of crimes (I’m sure you can name at least one shooter from Columbine, Newtown, Virginia Tech?) and a culture obsessed with reality TV (Kardashians, Real Housewives…it keeps going), so what’s to stop us from combining all of them together and having the media circus of the century? I mean it’s just a cleaner (and less expensive) version of the Hunger Games right? Pierre does this through the character Lally.
Lally orchestrates an incredible coup of the media and eventually manipulates all the correct cards and players to create a televised criminal system, from 24 hour web streaming of prisoner’s cells to voting on which inmate is the next for execution, it’s there. It may seem extreme, but it’s just a little step from where we already are. Think about it. I will say it felt like Lally received his just comeuppance, but the fact he got as far as he did (and probably would in today’s society) is terrifying.
Recommendation: Read it, but make sure you’re prepared for the struggle with the language. You’ll have to read the book though to find out how extreme Pierre’s world is, because that part was good.
Opening Line: “It’s hot as hell in Martirio, but the papers on the porch are icy with the news”
Closing Line: “Everybody’s gone, Mrs. Porter. Everything’s back to normal…” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Vernon God Little
“He’s still clumsy as hell though, and his mind’s clumsy too; the certainty of our kid logic got washed away, leaving pebbles of anger and doubt that crack together with each new wave of emotion.” (16)
“I’m full of feelings, but not the ones I dreamed of. Instead of true joy, I feel waves; the kind that make you look forward to the smell of laundry on a rainy Saturday, the type of drippy hormones that trick you into saying I Love You.” (75)