Vernon Subutex 2 — Virginie Despentes

I was so excited to order this in a recent, late-lockdown book binge, having really enjoyed the first volume back in October.

Now homeless and sleeping rough in Buttes-Chaumont park, the book follows Vernon Subutex along with his unlikely band of misfit followers. Some are old friends, others become drawn into the group by chance — from a bourgeois one-time script writer to a devout young Muslim woman.

I’ve seen this described as a thriller, which is a bit much. There is plenty of intrigue but it’s not even a suspense novel — it’s just a terrific page-turner. As in volume one, Despentes’s gift is making light work of heavy social commentary through a constellation of characters that each represent a different (if not every) facet of contemporary Paris.

While real darkness and fury run through it, this is nonetheless an often funny and, I think, overall uplifting read. Despentes doesn’t hold back in presenting every character in all their gory humanity. Each one is self-interested and flawed in their own way, but — barring the novel’s central villain — also has at least a modicum of dignity and empathy.

The plot is definitely fantastical, and the uplifting end is surely foreboding. If it’s seems too good to be true, it probably is — and there’s a third volume for it all to fall apart. I can’t wait to find out what happens.

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