So, my first real post. I’m excited. I’m sure you’re probably not. But I’m going to crack on regardless in the hope we find some common ground. I thought I’d start with a straight forward no thrills review and we’ll see how we go from there.
I was lucky enough to have an advance copy of DBC Pierre’s Lights Out in Wonderland come sliding through my letter box last week. He’s a writer I very much admire. His attitude and style bring a much needed rock and roll feel to contemporary fiction, mainly due to his Booker Prize winning debut, Vernon God Little. When I read it a few years ago I remember thinking that here was a writer that knew how to use the English language creatively. Teenage angst is a topic tackled by many authors, myself included, and is rarely done with anywhere near as much creativity and passion as Vernon God Little. It was like a fresh, rated-18 Catcher in the Rye. Which, if you’re anything like me, is a concept that makes the pupils dilate and the mouth foam with anticipation.
So I sat, pupils dilated, mouth foaming, with Lights Out in Wonderland on my lap. It promised a lot. The blurb described an orgy of a romp through some of the worlds greatest cities. Sexual encounters with an octopus were cited, drugs, drink and general debauchery were just a few pages away. All of this, I’m pleased to say, was true. London, Tokyo and Berlin in particular play host to some quality decadence as Gabriel Brockwell sticks more drugs up his nose than a five year old me did with crayons. But he’s also a whiney little bastard. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with pretty much everything that Pierre’s capitalism-hating protagonist says, it’s just the way he says it. It seems to me that Gabriel comes from that London ilk of bourgeoisies that carry an iPhone but complain constantly about corporate greed, say they like the alternative but turn up in the trendiest bars with the trendiest companions. Always with the perfect ratio of girls to guys, the perfect ratio of high fashion and high-mindedness. I won’t get started on that. It’s a genre of humanity that really pisses me off and unfortunately one that Gabriel Brockwell seems to belong to.
In fairness to him, during his suicidal waltz he goes some way towards shedding this. It’s Berlin that does it to him you see, and only further confirms to me that Germany might well be my spiritual home. They’ve been there, done that and I love the attitude of the Germans in this story. They see Gabriel for who he is and change him for the better. This is where the book starts to get interesting. The orgy of a party that the blurb promised in the ‘bowls of Berlin’s majestic Tempelhof airport’ soon rolls around, punctuated with the excellent pacing that Pierre brings to the closing stages of all of his novels. And it’s here that the reader will start to buy into Gabriel, as the greed and general filth that is the upper echelons of Capitalism is paraded in front of us. Fuck I hate them. But don’t worry, they get what’s coming to them. Pierre will always see to that.
So, the novel does pick up. And I’m sure if you can get your head around Gabriel then you won’t even need it to. But for me the key thing with this book was, despite it being set in the present day, it’s slight dystopian feel. I’m not sure whether this is intentional, it could simply be my reading of it, but the 1984-esque London in particular just hints at how close we have come to the world which great literature has always strived to warn us against.
Another highlight for me was the Basque’s likening of capitalism to a rocket ship, where the masses are merely fuel tanks which blast the rich few into space before falling ungraciously back to earth, their simple job accomplished.
All in all, Lights Out in Wonderland is a solid little book. I think it’s let down by it’s overenthusiastic ideas about itself, which is pretty much all I had to go on before reading it seeing as how it’s not out ’til September. I have to say it gave me the wrong impression a bit and left me feeling a little disappointed. I wanted to love it, to proclaim it better than Vernon God Little. But I just can’t do that. As I said, if you can get over Gabriel then you’ll like it. If not then stick with it, because the end comes through with the novel’s true bildungsroman colours, a genre that Pierre obviously writes well with. A middling three out of five stars I think for this, Charlie Marlow’s first reviewed book.