“The voice came out first,” says DBC Pierre, after a party in New York to celebrate winning the Booker Prize for his first novel, Vernon God Little. “I wrote the first draft in about five weeks. Then I had to spend a lot of months basically learning to write.” Pierre (real name: Peter Finlay) grew up in Mexico among American expats, spent a few decades as a cartoonist, photographer, con man, and layabout, ended up with an Australian accent, and began the book in England just before his 38th birthday.
Unsurprisingly, Vernon Little’s polymorphous voice is the star of the novel. Little is a pissy, malapropism-prone 15-year-old Texan whose favorite word is fucken, and he’s smart-mouthed himself into becoming a “skate-goat” for a high school massacre. But he’s also shit-faced high on language, and observant beyond his powers of description, which gives his simmeringly funny monologue the scent of cracked poetry: “Velcro fucken ant-farms seize my gut.”
Set in a landscape of Bar-B-Chew Barns and overpriced sneakers, Vernon‘s satire is almost too fast to steer, culminating in a merciless slapstick cluster bombing of “reality entertainment” ‘s scatological vulgarity. Pierre claims, though, “I never set out to write a comedy—even to the last, I thought it was a hyper-colored, very loud, but quite photo-realistic account. It was only afterwards that I looked back and noticed it.” The targets of his jokes are the broadest barn doors of only-in-America culture, and the story of the kid’s ambition, escape, and media crucifixion is a classic American narrative, but its sustained farce is very much in the British tradition of Waugh. Does Pierre think of Vernon as a British or an American book? “That’s as hard as the question of where I come from,” he says. “It’s got an informed detachment, if you know what I mean.”