I first discovered the crude language of Virginie Despentes on some TV Talk Show. I knew nothing about her, except that she was a writer and filmmaker, and that I had been advised before to check her work out. So I kept watching the interview, slowly but deeply falling in love with her words. By the end of the show, I knew that I would love her prose and I decided to give it a try. That was about two years ago!
The second experience I had with Despentes was in a bookshop. I usually spend a lot of time wandering among the different sections, looking at book covers, reading back covers, and trying to decide what books to buy. This process can take hours. So I was in that bookshop, looking for a gift for a friend and after what seemed like decades, I was attracted to a yellow cover (a gut feeling of some sort). This was when I discovered Apocalypse Bébé. I knew that it would be the perfect gift for my friend or, at least, I trusted the idea I had of Despentes from the interview. I also knew that it was time I read something from Despentes.
Among the many books she wrote, I chose Vernon Subutex (VS) for two reasons : I liked the name and the book cover (Grasset Editions). I had had a similar experience with Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower so I decided to buy the first VS.
I have felt an incredible amount of different emotions during my readings. Some books I have finished with the mouth wide open, overwhelmed with shock and excitement. Yet, I had never had goosebumps before reaching the end of Subutex.
So, what’s the story about anyways? The book follows the adventures of its eponymous hero Vernon, a middle-aged Parisian man, ex-record shop owner, who finds himself homeless and travels through the streets of Paris, crashing at friends and basically just surviving. No need to tell you more…
In the story, Despentes explores many themes which show some of 20th and 21st centuries’ lifestyles in the worlds of prostitution, trading and most importantly, music (among others). Subutex constantly moves from places to places and by doing so, discovers a lot about human nature. Spirituality and religion play an important part in the series, especially from the second work.
Despentes’ prose really helps the reader relate to the different characters. Our ideas and believes are continuously challenged as we encounter new characters. Every chapter is written with a first-person narrator and every character (many outcasts) has a right to tell the story of the life of Vernon Subutex. I was referring earlier to the crudeness of Despentes’ language. Well, what I love about this series is that it seems that the author really worked on each character’s way of speaking.
I absolutely love stories which are told with a stream of consciousness voice, and Vernon Subutex is a great example of this style of prose. Thanks to this process, we learn so much about the characters’ visions of the world, they speak with no hypocrisy and we have an exceptionally realistic portrait of 21st-century Paris.
This is my first book review and I am afraid to say too much about the story or the book. I do believe that everyone should read these books, in French if possible, as it is a great social and spiritual journey. I will end this with a quote from the first book which I really liked.
“La vie se joue souvent en deux manches : dans un premier temps, elle t’endort en te faisant croire que tu gères, et sur la deuxième partie, quand elle te voit détendu et désarmé, elle repasse les plats et te défonce.”
NB : next review will be on the work of Kundera