Vernon, who for a long time run a sort of music-shop in Paris, is compelled to give it up – though he’s a real expert, but the times are a’ changing and everybody has laptops, tablets or smartphones, and nobody needs discs, cassettes or walkmen anymore. Even Vernon himself does his job as DJ with Youtube. But with nearly fifty years he can’t find a job anymore, first he sells everything he owns on E-Bay, then he roams on for a time as a guest of his kiddos and ex-girlfriends until he finally ends on the street. Alex Bleach, black pop singer who did help him financially, accelerates things by his suicide. As a shadow he will follow us further on. Well, we are used to see our heroes suffering (read my lips Feodor Dostojewski!), but mostly in the end they recover again. But not Vernon. The longer it takes, the more he gets turbid.
One after the other Despentes presents us Vernon's friends and other people, sometimes Vernon tells, sometimes these are reflecting, telling us their point of views and their situation too. The author leads us through a panopticum of characters: Despentes language is without mercy, she shows us former punks, gays, porno-stars transvestites, “Arabs”, freaks of the internet, dandies, trendy people, bummers. In doing so she designs an unsparing image of the French society
“Une blonde en doudoune, un cabas rose fuchsia coincé sous le bras, lit le dernier Stephen King, en se tenant à la barre. Une brune à lunettes mâche son chewing-gum, elle a laissé ouvert les boutons du haut de sa chemise noire à pois blancs, elle porte des perles nacrées aux oreilles. Elle a une allure de délurée giscardienne. Un adolescent black, teddy rouge, crâne rasé, lunettes à épaisse monture noire, tape un texto sur son portable, quelque chose semble le contrarier. Un quadragénaire, sac au dos et écouteurs fluo jaunes, est assis les jambes écartées, il n’a pas l’air de connaître la ville.” (too lazy to translate).
In it’s composition and dialectics “Vernon Subutex is quite a little masterpiece: take the fact, that the only real and deep love of the very promiscuous Vernon is just the tranny Marcia, take that porno-star Pamela Kant wants to write a sex-book for kids, the fact that people from very different edges of our society suddenly unite in the pain of their dead dogs. Read how Despentes characterizes the furnishings of former punk and now petite-bourgeoise Emilie in one sentence – or towards the end the book how a tacky street gang kicks a hoodlum into coma...
All the social themes which are of burning importance are developed, even the sighs of right-sided chaps on Islam in France:
“Xavier a envie de décocher un formidable coup de pied dans le cul de la grosse Arabe voilée qui se pavane devant lui. Est-ce qu’on pourrait, par pitié, faire deux cents mètres dans la rue sans avoir à supporter leur voile, leur main de Fatima au rétroviseur ou l’agressivité de leurs rejetons ?... Sale race, m’étonne pas qu’on leur en veuille ! Lui, il est là à faire les courses au lieu de bosser parce que sa femme ne veut pas qu’on la prenne pour une bonniche, et pendant ce temps ces sales feignasses de crouilles traînent dehors, peinards, à rien foutre, entre chômeurs grassement entretenus par les allocations, ils passent la journée au café pendant que leurs meufs triment. Non contentes de s’occuper de tout dans la maison sans jamais se plaindre, et d’aller bosser pour les entretenir, elles ressentent encore le besoin de porter le voile pour afficher leur soumission. C’est de la guerre psychologique, ça : c’est fait pour que le mâle français sente comme il est dévalué.”
(“Xavier was tempted to give a kick up the arse to the fat and veiled Arab woman walking in front of him. Is it possible to walk in the streets, only for 200 meters, without having a veil or Fatima’s hand in sight? Dirty race! No wonder they are dogged by bad luck! He is doing couses because his wife don’t wants to be taken as a maid, ... meanwhile this filty types sit in the cafés doing nothing. Their wifes though work hard to nourish the family, then they do the houshold without complaining, but additionally they feel the need to wear headscarf as a sign of submission. This is psychologic war! This serves to show French men their devaluation!” – translation by me)
Now the name “Subutex”: It seems that Subutex is a painkiller. Good for us. Even better for Vernon.
But I had the followin thought too: does “Subutex” mean subtext? The whole book is in fact full of subliminal meanings: We hear Vernons story but we get the state of the French society, wher some groups are left behind with nothing but hate.
The book we read in our group before “Vernon Subutex” was “The Return to Reims” by Didier Eribon. Without being aware of we made a good choice – Eribon and Despentes are treating the same themes, but in quite different ways! Eribon is writing about himself as a gay kid and adult, Despentes remains invisible and describes without any judgement and rather empathic. The more her language is far nearer the people she describes, showing the daily slang they use. Eribon is the typical – male – French professor. His book is more an essay than a novel, is nice to read, but maybe Foucault could do it better?
Despentes plans a following volume of “Vernon Subutex”. I’m curious about.