At the outset of the novel, 15 year old Vernon Gregory Little is being held in police custody, accused of being an accomplice in a shooting at his high school. This seems to be solely on the basis that he was friends with the culprit, and not in his class at the time.
And so begins a tale in which events spiral ever further out of control for Little, until he eventually goes on the run, confirming his guilt in the eyes of many.
Told from the perspective of a young, hormonal boy with a tendency to swear too much, I found little to relate to, and couldn’t help but think that he made matters worse for himself at every available opportunity. He makes one bad decision after another and ends up paying for it. That said, he receives little help from those that you’d expect to support a teenager in this situation – the police are convinced of his guilt before he’s uttered a single word, and his mother is as much use as an inflatable dartboard.
At it’s heart, Vernon God Little is a satire. The media comes under fire for it’s sensationalist approach where innocence and guilt are irrelevant. The obsession with material things and celebrity is also highlighted, largely through Vernon’s mother and her friends. Whilst I’m aware that the point of a satire is to exaggerate flaws such as these, I thought that this went too far, and that the characters became unrealistic as a result.
Essentially, there’s nothing in new in this – the idea of the troubled teen brings to mind Holden Caulfield, and their dissatisfaction with their respective societies certainly bears comparison, but this doesn’t even come close to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The satirical elements are nothing new – they’ve been done before, and have been done better. It’s meant to a comedy, but I found little amusement in it, and I found it to be quite hard going.
To think that this won the 2003 Booker Prize over Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (quite possibly my favourite book in the world) is outrageous.