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Vernon Subutex 1
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International Booker Prize > 2018 MBI Shortlist: Vernon Subutex 1

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited Mar 13, 2018 04:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3002 comments Mod
Vernon Subutex, 1 by Virginie Despentes Virginie Despentes (France), Frank Wynne, Vernon Subutex, 1 (MacLehose Press)


Meike (meikereads) JAAAAAAAAAA...ääähh... OUIIIIIIIII!!! So happy that Despentes made the list, I was rooting for her! I have a hunch that this book might divide opinion - I really loved it though and already ordered part II. Here's my review for pt I (the one being longlisted).


message 3: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments Yes I was wondering - if any of us don't like it might we have a Reservoir 13 type moment on our hands?


message 4: by Meike (last edited Mar 13, 2018 09:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meike (meikereads) Paul wrote: "Yes I was wondering - if any of us don't like it might we have a Reservoir 13 type moment on our hands?"

Paul, you troll, not again! I think we had an agreement NOT to go back to this anymore, didn't we? As I remember it, it wasn't me who lashed out against people who disliked a book I supported, and I am generally opposed to doing the Rex Tillerson with anyone who does not enjoy the same type of books. I hope that this will be a shared sentiment in the whole MBI discussion, because it would be very beneficial to our discussion!

STOP, IN THE NAME OF LOVE!


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5056 comments If there was a "Like" button on Goodreads I would be pressing it on your comment Meike!


message 6: by Paul (last edited Mar 13, 2018 09:12AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments Yes peace and love for the MBI

Incidentally Eileen Battersby from the Irish Times, never shy of voicing her opinions either way, has this as 'One of the books of the year, if not the decade'

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...

Unfortunately she doesn't seem to have been commissioned to write her take on the whole list this year.


Robert | 1958 comments Ordered my copy as well


Meike (meikereads) Gumble, Paul, Robert, I am curious to read your reviews!

Paul wrote: "Yes peace and love for the MBI
Incidentally Eileen Battersby from the Irish Times, never shy of voicing her opinions either way, has this as 'One of the books of the year, if not the decade'
http..."


Thanks for the link! I particularly liked Battersby's last paragraph:

"Seldom has a novel with so much vicious humour and political intent also included moments of beautifully choreographed, unexpected tragedy. Bold and sophisticated, this thrilling, magnificently audacious picaresque is about France and is also about all of us; how loudly we shout, how badly we hurt. It is the story of now."

Great, and I feel the same way.

The press in Germany also went wild celebrating the book. One critic (and decorated writer), Thea Dorn, said that Despentes writes like an opened razor - and there's something to this observation, I think.


Neil | 1824 comments I've just finished this and I thought it was amazing. 5 stars, definitely. That quote from Battersby seems to sum it up.


Meike (meikereads) SUBUTEX! SUBUTEX! SUBUTEX!!! :-)


message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments I can only assume that the rest of the book is very different in style from the preview I can read on Amazon of the first chapter :-)

Incidentally it does not actually seem to be published yet - how are you all reading it (or is this via the dreaded Kindle).


Meike (meikereads) I read the hardcover of the German translation which has been published a while ago - the English version is not in print yet?


message 13: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments I read the Kindle version. And yes, I wasn’t 100% sure to begin with so the beginning of the book isn’t the best bit to judge it on.


message 14: by Neil (last edited Mar 17, 2018 01:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments Amazon has the English version available now? Are you looking at Volume 2 that comes out in June 2018?


message 15: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments Reading the Battersby quote, I am quite proud of myself for using "picaresque" in my own review!


message 16: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments Neil wrote: "Amazon has the English version available now? Are you looking at Volume 2 that comes out in June 2018?"

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vernon-Subut...

"This title will be released on March 22, 2018."

Or is there another version?


message 17: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments My mistake. You are right. Kindle version is available (must be - I have it!). Paper version not until 22 March.


message 18: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments OK makes sense - wondered if I was missing something as all the shadow jurors seem to have it in their possession as well.

The big problem is the Ransmayr - not out until well into April: available in the US immediately - except the postal delay will probably mean that is April as well.


message 19: by Neil (last edited Mar 17, 2018 02:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vernon-Subut...

This has it available for £10.82, but used, which is hard to understand if it has not been published!


message 20: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments On the Ransmayr, I will probably only read it if it makes the short list. But I know that's not really an option for you!


message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments Well it may well be at this rate! Otherwise things are well under control - 8 read of the 13 so far.


message 22: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments That Amazon link to Subutex is weird! If you click on the Kindle option it shows, the paperback option changes back to the one not available until 22 March. Anyway, 22 March is time enough for you, I think?


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5056 comments If I had known I would have bought for you in New York this week. I picked up a paperback of a women's prize book on Thursday but did not think to look for MBI books. I won't be working there again until after the UK publication.


Robert | 1958 comments Book depository has the English version


message 25: by Carl (new)

Carl (catamite) | 117 comments I’m sure Amazon had it a few days ago but now it’s showing as released on March 22. Strange.

I’m really looking forward to this one.


message 26: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "If I had known I would have bought for you in New York this week. I picked up a paperback of a women's prize book on Thursday but did not think to look for MBI books. I won't be working there again..."

Well March 22 is fine really - plenty of other MBI books to read.

What you should have done in US Gumble is taken a few copies of the White Book and sold them to US booksellers - seems very hard to get there.


message 27: by Tony (new)

Tony | 590 comments The trade paperback of Vernon Subutex 1 was out in the UK last June...


message 28: by Carl (new)

Carl (catamite) | 117 comments I picked this up at the LRB yesterday. They had quite a few copies. Also managed to get a copy of The Stolen Bicycle too.


Billy  | 15 comments Wow, quite the author pic at the back. Right out of Trainspotting.


message 30: by Ctb (last edited Apr 07, 2018 05:53AM) (new) - added it

Ctb | 197 comments This is a romp read, so far, but the translation feels too Briticized. Maybe Despentes uses multi-cultural idioms or the two are converging because of time, proximity, Internet?

Anyone else bothered by the inconsistencies in punctuation, redundancy, grammar errors?
Anyone whose mother tongue is French care to tell me their interpretation of the original in the examples below?
Whose language should I be irritated with? Despentes, Wynne, or hipster drug addicts?

p. 9 “...his ability to dig his way out of the quagmire he was bogged down in.”
Of course, this is echoing Vernon’s thoughts, and people speak and think redundantly, but quagmire and bog? “he was bogged down in” is unnecessary. No need to say you are 'in' something if you have said you want out.

p. 11 “He was familiar with the entire oeuvre of Sasha.., Bobby.., or Nina...”
Does original text say “or” instead of ‘and’?

p. 18 “...remembering the time they had seen Strummer play a solo gig together.”
More redundancy and a misplaced modifier. ‘They’ renders ‘together’ unnecessary, and “play a solo gig together” isn’t possible.

p. 20 “- walk through the cold, be on his own, see the lights pass others melt into the milling crowd and feel the ground beneath his feet.”
Why commas after cold and own, but no commas after lights, others, crowd?

p. 21 “He was trying to hook up with an unlikely assistant/intern working on some T.V….”
She’s not an unlikely assistant. She’s unlikely to hook up with Vernon.

p. 22 “...two days later leaving Vernon in a state of coma.”
“In a coma” is sufficient. As written it’s “in a state of state of unconsciousness”

p. 24 “makes men more well disposed…”
More and well? How about, Makes men more well better likelier disposed.

p. 29 “The idea of his address book falling into the hands of some random freaked him out.”
Is ‘some random’ used in French? Does Despentes use ‘stranger’?

p. 32 “Vernon would send his landlord a cheque, then stock up on cigarettes and food, and jealously stashed away a little in a tin box…”
Stashed should be stash.

p. 35 “They worried about keeping him on the strait and narrow….”
French and/or Brits use strait not straight in this idiom? The moral path is geographically narrow and narrow?

p. 43 “At first she struggled with her weight - diets exercise thalassotherapy massage creams and anti-cellulite treatments that cost a fortune….”
Why some lists with commas, and some without, like this one?

p. 46 “When they met up for a beer before a concert, when they went to a movie together, when they organised a dinner party, when they celebrated something, she was left out.”
All the expected commas used here but not on page 43 or 20….

p. 59 “He wanted it to be something raw, something between mates, a tour bus that was a G7 van with the seats ripped out with catering that was mostly tabbouleh….”
At least all the commas are there. But you can’t rip out seats with catering.

I've quit caring. Just ride.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5056 comments I enjoyed the punctuation parts. It was the parts between the punctuation I disliked.


message 32: by Ctb (last edited Apr 08, 2018 05:17AM) (new) - added it

Ctb | 197 comments Man, the mess continues. Missing and repeated words, typos, switching tenses, switching speakers, switching times, abusing pronouns...

"flair for characterisation" - Eileen Battersby.
NO! The named people - they can't be called characters - are one non-voice.

They are passive, on/off, iterative descriptions: he/she does/does not have money; spliff; he/she owns/rents a 300/30 square meter apartment; spliff; he/she dresses stylishly/frumpishly; he/she is a bastard/bitch; lines; he/she is beautiful/ugly; he/she is fat/skinny; spliff; he/she has a big/little dick; lines; he/she is sexy/convenient; spliff; he/she has boyfriends/girlfriends du jour; he/she is a leftist/rightist; he/she looks fabulous/like shit for his/her age; he/she loves/hates music by x/y and is therefore cool/not cool; spliff; he/she is a success/failure; he/she is a he/she spliff...

One distinction is that Alex Bleach is/was Black, which is repeated each time he is mentioned.

Cannot name one whit of difference between Lydia, Emilie, Sylvie, Pamela, Audrey, Satana, Marie-Ange, Deb, Celeste... They're all interchangeable. Exit/enter.

And the authorial posturing and interjections... I think Despentes was Kikoing while she was writing.

But I won't stop reading it.


message 33: by Hugh (last edited Apr 09, 2018 07:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3002 comments Mod
This seems to be the Marmite book of this longlist, but unless the second half is very different to the first, I am unlikely to come down strongly on either side of the argument.

I know that my ear for language is not good by the standards of this group, but I would hardly have noticed any of the linguistic issues Ctb mentions, in fact I suspect some of these stylistic quirks are deliberate, but without reading the original I can't assess that - it is better written than most music journalism (I know that sounds like faint praise!). So far I am finding much of it quite funny if deliberately tasteless, and although the characters are narcissistic and not very likeable, it does say quite a lot about the values of our times.


message 34: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments Hugh, you are right about "the Marmite book"!

My experience with this and The Imposter was illuminating. In The Imposter, I wasn't really enjoying the story and that meant that when I started to be annoyed by the punctuation, it grew and grew until I couldn't bear to go on. Here, it was the opposite. Because I am in the group that like this book, I didn't really notice the "errors" or, at least, chose to ignore them.

That said, I don't agree with all the issues ctb has raised. Some, I think, are just stylistic choices that one person might like and another not like e.g. quagmire/bogged down - to one person that's redundancy to another it's a play on words.


Meike (meikereads) Hugh, I am curious to hear your thoughts, because you say that you're "unlikely to come down strongly on either side of the argument." Until now, the reactions have been very strong, as you and Neil said (and just like Neil, I am on the "pro" side of the argument), but I would like to read a review that is maybe a little less passionate.

Until now, I found much of the criticism I read not very convincing. Despentes does operate with strong language, her way of writing is a stylistic choice, though some people might not enjoy it (which would be an argument of taste). It also doesn't convince me to state plainly that this tale has nothing to do with modern-day France - I agree with you that the book does indeed "say quite a lot about the values of our times."

Now I am really looking forward to reading what it was that you did AND what you did not enjoy!


message 36: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8196 comments It is am interesting point that one noticed errors more when one is not enjoying a book. This is riddled with them though (missing words, missing punctuation, tense inconsistencies) which go beyond stylistic choices I suspect. I would look back for examples but fortunately Amazon let me return the book for a refund on the grounds of being offensive to literary standards. Still it has provoked a debate so warrants its one star, that I otherwise begrudge it, if only for that.


message 37: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments I just wrote a long post arguing the case for the "errors" above being OK (in most cases: some are clearly errors). But we're not here to argue about punctuation, are we?


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5056 comments I would think not - albeit there was I recall one forum member who gave up on one of the MBI longlist purely due to its poor punctuation

:o) .......... or should that be ;o)


message 39: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments Well, as I said above, it wasn’t purely down to poor grammar/punctuation. The fact that I wasn’t enjoying that book meant I noticed the punctuation and my annoyance with it grew and grew until I gave up. Once you have spotted something, you can’t unspot it.

This one I liked, so I didn’t notice or I forgave the errors.

But my point is that I don’t see all the things ctb has pointed to as being problems. Some are clear mistakes, but many of them I am quite happy with as they stand.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5056 comments I tend to agree on many of the example above, just as one example I think to use "random" as a noun is acceptable (if grammatically awful) urban/teenage slang in the UK.

Although Ctb's original comment was of course less that they were errors than that the "translation feels too Briticized"

My issue with the book was purely, as Meike points out, personal taste.


message 41: by Meike (last edited Apr 09, 2018 06:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meike (meikereads) As someone who read the German translation (which is extremely good and flows very nicely, btw), I noticed that Despentes works with varying patterns of speech, sociolects, colloquialisms and phrases, which is deliberate as she aims to describe social spheres. To critcize the language on the high-school-techer-level of "how to write properly" is missing the point. I clearly see though why some people might simply not enjoy Despentes' writing because it's not to their liking. (I can't talk about clear errors such as missing words etc. that might exist in the English translation, of course, or whether it is "briticized").

I tried to return Paul's review, btw, but turns out he has bad customer service! :-)


message 42: by Ctb (new) - added it

Ctb | 197 comments Stylistic choices (or quirks) is hardly an answer or an argument.

All authorial choices exist as tools of artistic and thematic aims. Those choices - every word, every comma, every point of view - must mean something, must serve a larger purpose, so “stylistic choices” only begs my many (perhaps socratically self-rhetorical) questions of why redundancy, why punctuation inconsistencies, why wrong tenses, why switching point of view in one sentence….? Yes, choices (or perhaps ignorance), but I’m wondering to what end?

Point of view problems are common among inexperienced writers and those lacking facility with language. They erode credibility and reader trust. Point of view isn’t easy though, as Chrissie Tiegen sarcastically tweeted recently, “pronouns can be so hard”.

“And the Hyena nodded and looked at looked at the girl with eyes of an adult who has powdered your bottom when you were a baby…”

The many pages of sentences similar to that one read as if Wynne/Despentes, who make and sell language, lack language prowess. A writer may have an exciting, timely, universally important story, but nevertheless lack the virtuosities of their medium.

Patrice played bass and toured Europe in the band, Nazi Whores, with music idol, Alex Bleach, but Patrice could play “three notes”. “He never became a good musician. He had the vocation but not the talent.” Despentes/Wynne’s ability to be paid well for their work reminds me of many of the character types being satirized in the book from Patrice to producers, and Hyenas to drug-dealers.


message 43: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3002 comments Mod
For me polished prose wouldn't be true to the subject and wouldn't work. I am not claiming this is classic literature but aside from a few sloppy errors I suspect that Wynne has stayed pretty true to the original and the milieu...


Meike (meikereads) I agree with you Hugh who, like some people above, also answered the question "to what end" Despentes made those choices. The text does not support the view that Despentes writes like that simply because she has no other kind of language.

And if you're mocking someone for supposedly lacking in accuracy, be careful: It's Teigen, not Tiegen. :-)


message 45: by Hugh (last edited Apr 10, 2018 01:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3002 comments Mod
I still have around 50 pages to go, but so far the second half is more powerful than the first (if bleaker).

One minor irritation that is probably more of a typesetting issue than a translation problem is that in some cases words have been split over multiple lines using a hyphen and the pagination has been changed subsequently, leaving words behind with hyphens in the middle that do not coincide with the line breaks.


message 46: by Neil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neil | 1824 comments Hugh, I agree: the second half is what really won me over. I don’t think you will end up as enthusiastic as I am, though.


message 47: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3002 comments Mod
I have finished the book, and on the whole the positives outweighed the negatives. My review


Declan | 185 comments Now that I've gone back to the start of this discussion thread and have read Paul's review I realise that Eileen Battersby's review has been noted and discussed long ago. I bought the book after reading her review and now that I've started it I wish I had seen Paul's review instead of hers. I'm as unrock 'n' roll as you could imagine and so far I intensely dislike this book. If I follow Paul's advice I should abandon now, but I might just read another chapter to convince myself that I wasted my money and wonder why Eileen Battersby thought it was so good. Sigh!


message 49: by LindaJ^ (new) - added it

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 498 comments I am putting this book to one side for now at about the halfway point because, well, I'm not liking it one iota. But, since so many of you say the second half is better, I will perhaps return to it. I hate every character so far, except maybe the dog, but he only had a brief appearance.


Declan | 185 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "I am putting this book to one side for now at about the halfway point because, well, I'm not liking it one iota. But, since so many of you say the second half is better, I will perhaps return to it..."

If you've disliked the first half of the book, I don't think you'll be convinced by the author's attempt to introduce pathos and to universalise Vernon.


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