Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Review: Vernon Subutex, by Virginie Despentes


Vernon Subutex, by Virginie Despentes. Translated from the French by Frank Wynne. FSG Originals, 2019.

Vernon Subutex is the first of a trilogy about a French guy named Vernon who has lost his job and his apartment and is sort of bumming around Paris couch surfing with a colorful cast of friends and lovers, former and current. It reads like a series of character sketches and interlinked short stories. It's blunt, raw and full of explicit language and characters that run the gamut of French society, at least on the margins.

I started reading this in the fall and put it down for a while when I got a copy of Abraham Verghese's new book. That was a chunkster and it took me a while and in the meantime I kind of forgot about Vernon. I picked him up again a few weeks ago and I found that diving back into this world was pretty effortless. I chalk that up to the format; each chapter more or less focuses on a different character so it's a little like watching a TV series where you get a brief recap at the beginning of each episode.

I really enjoyed the heck out of this book and I definitely plan to read the sequels. I don't have a ton to say about it besides that. Despentes is a terrific writer; the characters are varied and very well drawn and it moves along at a good clip. I recommend it for readers interested in contemporary French life and life outside the main streets and tourist destinations. She doesn't shy away from showing some very ugly facets of life and some unlikeable characters but the overall experience for me was so enjoyable and fun.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

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