"Virginie Despentes' Vernon Subutex Trilogy is the zeitgeistiest thing I ever read. Everything about it is contemporary, right down to the fearless woman author who doesn't think of herself as a feminist and gives an impression at least in interviews of habitually killing rapists. . . I tore through these books the minute they were published, as if they were one of those TV series everybody loves so much. These novels with their depth and detail kick TV's sorry ass." Nell Zink, Bustle
"With Vernon Subutex, a sprawling, scintillating panorama of contemporary Paris, [Despentes] has produced a bona fide magnum opus . . . doing for Paris what Joyce did for Dublin." Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Despentes’s most recent work, The Vernon Subutex trilogy, which began appearing in 2015, catapulted her into the high echelons of the literary establishment . . . The series is a departure from her pulp writing, a sprawling Parisian epic à la Zola, focused as much on class as on sex . . . Taken as a whole, the trilogy is a rather extraordinary act of creation and destruction, a realistic Paris evoked, transformed, and torn apart." Nadja Spiegelman, New York Review of Books
"Vernon Subutex 1, written by Virginie Despentes and translated from French by Frank Wynne, is the kind of match that is so great it won’t occur to readers that these two entities author and translator might have ever been apart. In fact, their prose is so powerful, and so perfect, that we forget we’re even reading. Opening up Vernon Subutex 1 is more like stepping inside a thrilling, pulsing party and getting instantly mesmerized by the whirling couple at the center of the crowd." Jennifer Croft, The Lost Angeles Review of Books
"Like HBO’s Succession, the book revolves around an ensemble of horrible people . . .[Despentes] writes wickedly about people watching their privilege evaporate in real time and reacting with the full range of human ugliness . . . What fun!" Molly Young, Vulture
"Virginie Despentes is a true original, a punk-rock George Eliot with a keen taste for the pitiable innards of her characters: no one else has her slyly penetrating eye, her spiky sense of humor, her razor wit that cuts like wire through the accumulated crud of our age's default thought patterns. In her masterful hands,Vernon Subutex becomes a droll, hilarious, insightful record of our unfortunate times." Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
"[A] searing social satire and biting portrait of contemporary France . . . 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." Publishers Weekly
"Masterly . . . Despentes is often described as a 'rock and roll' Balzac . . . She also resembles, by turns, William Gibson, George Eliot and Michel Houellebecq, with a sunnier attitude." Chris Kraus, The Times Literary Supplement
"Cool, plentiful, and absolute genius. Virginie Despentes has a license to ill. Vernon Subutex is one of the best books of this decade." Alex Gilvarry, author of Eastman Was Here
"Afoul-mouthed, drug-fueled, searing satire of modern France . . . this novel is not for the faint of heart. But those who love a good skewering, admire Michel Houellebecq’s writing, or wished Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) was darker and dirtier will love it." Kathy Sexton, Booklist
"Despentes effortlessly slips in and out of these various lives, deftly switching styles each time (one chapter is as harsh as Bukowski, another as precise as Ernaux), and in so doing creates a new Comédie humaine depicting the various social milieux of the early twenty-first century." Jeffrey Zuckerman, World Literature Today
"[Vernon Subutex 1 is] a fantastic and disconcerting look at the outskirts of the music industry, what happens when society changes for the worst, and the legacies artists leave behind. It's a fascinating, immersive work of fiction and there’s more on the way." Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"Reads like Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia mashed with Don Quixote and set in contemporary Paris . . . the writing is energetic, delving, and occasionally lovely . . . Despentes has a sharp eye fixed on [society's] transformation, and she transcribes it acutely." Katharine Coldiron, The Arts Fuse
"The Vernon Subutex trilogy is about a social and financial drop, the decline of a character into a world of drugs and music, porn stars, disillusionment. A satirical vivid journey rooted in the 90s, the result is funny and tragic, a wild ride." largehearted boy
"Like Zola in his day, Despentes critiques the depredations of a gilded age ... Vernon Subutex is a great novel of the failures of neo-liberalism ... It has a hurried, helter-skelter charm ... In the end, Vernon Subutex seems to hold fast to the radical potential of the 1960s and 70s, even as it is alive to the irony that its middle-aged characters, through the world they built, have done so much to undermine these ways of being." Dorian Stuber, Three Percent
French punk rockers get old.
There's a lot of Gen X history here, some aging French pop culture, and a general feeling of hysteria at living in a dystopian time. Let's start from the top. Despentes (Pretty Things, 2018, etc.) is a French writer, filmmaker, etc. who is most famous for her debut novel, Baise-Moi (1992), which she adapted and directed into the controversial cult film. Like her characters, the author seems to have aged but not grown, which isn't all that troublesome at a time when Danny Boyle has fashioned Irvine Welsh's profane swindlers from Trainspotting (1993) into a sequel. This is literally a portrait gallery of French punk rockers passing middle age, most of them badly. The central figure is the titular 50-ish Vernon Subutex, who can pretty much be summed up by "used to own a record store." (Thanks, High Fidelity.) Much like a TV series (Surprise! There's already a French series based on this book), this is a soap-operatic portrait of a variety of burnouts rather than an actual narrative. With Vernon as the central figure and the death of famous rock star Alex Bleach as the semi-uniting event, Despentes drops in on the lives of a dozen or so desperate people who don't know how to fill the holes in their own lives. Vernon is simple: He's broke and couch-hopping at the best of times. Most notable is Xavier Fardin, nominally a screenwriter but mostly a psycho who makes Welsh's Begbie look like a lapdog by comparison. We also visit Vernon's weird ex, Sylvie; Laurent, a successful but obsessive filmmaker; ex-porn star Pamela, who is still competing with her dead rival; and Lydia Bazooka, a journalist who doesn't know it's too soon to start a biography of Alex. The writing here is evocative of any number of transgressive writers, including Welsh and Kathy Acker, but while the characters are tangible, the lack of a narrative keeps the book from feeling satisfying.
A caustic portrait of the blank generation facing middle age.