The “rock and roll Zola”: short-listed for the International Man Booker Prize, a European bestseller, and the basis of a hit TV series
From the provocative writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes comes volume one of her acclaimed trilogy of novels, Vernon Subutex—short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize. But who is Vernon Subutex?
Vernon Subutex was once the proprietor of Revolver, an infamous music shop in Paris, where his name was legend throughout Paris. By the 2000s, however, with the arrival of the internet and the decline in CD and vinyl sales, his shop is struggling, like so many others. When it closes, Subutex finds himself with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Before long, his savings are gone, and when the mysterious rock star who had been covering his rent suddenly drops dead of a drug overdose, Subutex finds himself launched on an epic saga of couch-surfing, boozing, and coke-snorting before finally winding up homeless. Just as he resigns himself to life as a panhandler, a throwaway comment he once made on Facebook takes the internet by storm.
The word is out: Subutex is lugging around a bunch of VHS tapes shot by that same dead rock musician—his last recordings on this earth. Soon a crowd of wild characters, from screen writers to social media groupies, from porn stars to failed musicians to random misfits, are hot on Vernon's trail . . . but Vernon is none the wiser.
The first book of a trilogy, Despentes's Man Booker shortlisted novel about a former record shop owner is a searing social satire and biting portrait of contemporary France. The titular Vernon Subutex was the owner of a record shop called Revolver in the 1980s, when he became an indelible part of the burgeoning music scene of the times, befriending rock stars, groupies, and fanatics. Now in his 40s, unemployed and broke, Vernon is left reeling after "the chain of catastrophes," a series of deaths of his friends from the scene. Most notable is that of Alexandre Beach, a mega-famous pop singer who, despite his stratospheric fame, never left his old friends behind. And unbeknownst to him, Vernon, who owns the last recordings of Alexandre Beach, has become a target of all kinds of attention: from Alex's exes, from a fan-slash-writer working on a definitive biography, and from a film financier with a personal vendetta. Vernon couch hops from one unstable living situation to the next, unaware of the forces after him, and in the process readers are introduced to a cast of tangential members of Vernon's social group and generation at large. Despentes's timely novel is both arch and political without being too obvious that it's either. This is a rollicking, brilliant send-up of masculinity, politics, and rock 'n' roll.