Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Depentes
Publisher: Quercus/MacLehose Press
Translated from the French by Frank Wynne
Disclaimer: I received a proof copy from the publisher for an honest unbiased review.
WHO IS VERNON SUBUTEX?
An urban legend.
A fall from grace.
The mirror who reflects us all.
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.
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.