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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Vernon Subutex One (2017) by Virgine Depentes


Book Review
Vernon Subutex 1(2017)
 by Virgine Depentes

   Vernon Subutex 1 is one of the last titles from the 2018 Man Booker International Prize shortlist, alongside the winner, Flight by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, The White Book by Han Kang,  Like a Fading Shadow by Anotnio Munoz Molina, Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi and The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai.  That last one is the only book on the shortlist I haven't read.    I thought Vernon Subutex 1 would get a United States release in the aftermath of the shortlist, but I was mistaken.  Eventually I tracked down the UK published English translation in London over Christmas.

  Flash forward to summer vacation, and I actually pulled it off the book shelf and read the darn thing.  I figured the lack of US publication put an end to any possible English language audience made available by the Booker International shortlist.  I suppose it's possible that the US publication rights are held by the UK publisher- that would account for a delay or absence.

 Her Wikipedia lists volumes 2 and 3 of Vernon Subutex- I don't think either book has been translated into English yet- volume 3 was published two years ago.  Subutex is the protagonist, though he shares narrating duties with varieties of friend and enemies.  Comfortable in his role as the proprietor of a Parisian record store specializing in vinyl, in the opening page he is hit with a triple whammy: the death of his Kurt Cobain-like pop star friend, the loss of his record store and eviction from his long time apartment.

  The eviction puts him on the road to homelessness, though not without a half dozen rest stops at the apartment and homes of friends from his past, each of whom gets their own narrated chapter.  Depentes tells her story mater-of-factly, there is nothing maudlin about Subutex and his descent.   He's arguably unsympathetic, since he does nothing to try to stop his fall.

  Also there are terrible decisions along the way: stealing from a wealthy divorcee who takes a shine to him, banging the tranny love interest of another temporary landlord.  Again, I'm surprised there was no American release. Hell, I'd put it out.  There is an audience among the urban hipster-lit crowd, particularly among vinyl nostaligists and/or people who 'love Paris' any of whom might be inclined to pick this up in a local indie bookstore.

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