Friday, 8 October 2010

Review: Lights Out in Wonderland, DBC Pierre (2010)

Determined to extricate himself from the institution he has been committed to after a failed suicide attempt, Gabriel Brockwell flees into the night of an alien county and makes his way back through the uninviting, fluoro-lit no-man's-land of semi-urban England to his share house in familiar London. Here, his momentum impels him to further anti-social exploits and, having appropriated funds from a special-interest group he is involved with that stakes its reputation on the success of protests launched against Capital, he veers off in the direction of Heathrow Airport en route to Tokyo where lives his pal Nelson Smuts.

Once safely ensconced inside Japan's throbbing capital city, Brockwell scuttles up to the fugu restaurant where Smuts works and begins to formulate his plans for an ultimate debauch. The money won't last forever but, thinks Brockwell, I don't want to either. A final fling in company with the Lord of the Grape is a fitting epitaph to a life led in direct psychic contrast to the mediocre mainstream. It's in the restaurant that Pierre's predeliction for rare olfactory treats begins to take shape. Brockwell witnesses a bizarre encounter between a clique of gangsters and the most violently poisonous elements of the deadly fugu, which results in Smuts being arrested and thrown in jail. Brockwell heads once more for the airport, sure that he can pull some strings with the authorities via the good offices of providor-to-the-super-rich Didier Le Basque.

In Berlin, he has access to old family friends - it is where he spent some time as a child. More importantly, he has the freedom Smuts lacks to scope out potential pleasure domes, which he proceeds to do with dogged enthusiasm. On the way to reaching his goal of freeing Smuts and maneuvring his existence into one last, over-the-top gustatory experience, he meets the mysterious organiser of earthly dreams, Thomas. Thomas indulges Brockwell's appetite for excess but our hero is drawn to the down-to-earth daughter of his father's old friend Gerd Specht, doyen of the fabled Pego Club. This establishment eventually and disappointingly (for Brockwell) turns out to be a snack bar inside the Templehof Airport building, which Brockwell then singles out as an appropriate venue for the big bash.

And here the synopsis ends because I didn't finish the novel, terminating my reading of it at page 253 (out of a total of 315 pages). The reason for this failure of will is that while Pierre can be very good when he is good, when he is otherwise he can be deadly dull. In the novel, that unhappy state applies with increasing frequency beginning with scenes in the fugu restaurant in Tokyo.

The delightfully insightful plaints to the detriment of Capital that pepper the novel's beginning morph into paeans to debauchery as Brockwell's plans firm up and his vision of total sensory indulgence start to dominate the textual psyche. Brockwell as fin-de-millennial-everyman stumbles groggily from one snort of coke to the next, and from one sublime quaff of the essence of the vernal grape to the one that - inexorably - follows. The high point - or low point, depending on your tastes - in this seemingly-random series of lurches toward the pit comes one night when Thomas escorts Brockwell into a fertile urban wasteland behind the fence of an abandoned complex of Nazi buildings. There, their senses ablaze with narcotics and orchestral music, Brockwell and Thomas are visited during the dim hours by two willing madchen and Bacchus can be heard applauding the result. In the morning there's nothing left but a hangover and a set of abandoned feminine underwear.

It's difficult to avoid the impression that Pierre rather too deeply admires this kind of tawdry exploit.

Rare, rich, perfect. Brockwell scrambles to attain the type of experience readily available to those who truly profit from the inequitable and therefore potentially doomed system of modern Capital. Whether he succeeds or fails, I for one will never know. The dead-eyed prosodic filler Pierre has used to occupy the spaces between occasionally better-written scenes made me yawn mightily and more and more often. Perhaps if he had spent more time in writing this book, it would have been a better one. But perhaps his attachment to the central premis wasn't strong enough to engage his intellect for that long. Perhaps he was running out of money and financial need propelled him to the presses prematurely. Whatever the reason, the book is often bad, despite sometimes being excellent. I think Pierre just ran out of puff on this one and hopefully the next one will be better.

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