Lights Out in Wonderland (2010) – DBC PIERRE

DBC Pierre’s other novels, Vernon God Little and Ludmilla’s Broken English, are pretty nuts. Though, when you consider Pierre’s pretty insane upbringing, perhaps one can begin to  understand why he writes fiction like this. I didn’t even know he’d released a third novel, but when I saw it on the shelves at work, looking for something different to read, I knew nothing could be as different as this.

After escaping rehab, Gabriel Brockwell decides he’s going to kill himself. With this in mind, he decides on a final party to celebrate the occasion – a last hurrah. He goes to Tokyo to rope in his childhood friends, Smuts, who is working in a high end fugu restaurant. His journey continues, and he finds himself in Berlin, where he grew up. But trying to find the best place to party is turning out to be a lot harder than he ever imagined.

The opening pages of Lights Out in Wonderland are some of the best I’ve ever read. What a wonderfully insane concept – I’ve decided I’m going to kill myself, so it doesn’t matter what I now do. To be able to release oneself from any kind of law or morality by deciding to kill yourself, it really allows you to take your characters into places other authors may not be brave enough to go. Unfortunately, though, I feel like Pierre didn’t take it to quite the level he could have. Writing about a character that, before this decision, was already pretty irresponsible and amoral kind of makes you wonder why he has suddenly decided this in the first place. Had Gabriel been a strait-laced business man or something, I think the fall could have been even more interesting.

The Tokyo sections are fine but, unlike those set in London and Berlin, don’t seem to evoke a great sense of place. Berlin, in particular, comes alive in this novel, and (I assume), it is clear that Pierre has spent some time there, working it all out in his head. I particularly love that he finds Berlin’s second, dilapidated airport, and turns it into a stage for most of the action. By moving us away from the centre of Berlin, which is well defined, Pierre is, like his characters, creating his own playground, where anything could happen. It’s not outside the realms of possibility, this nightclub of excess, but just on the outskirts of the city. Food for thought for his readers, no doubt.

There is a lot of anger in these pages, too. Pierre is clearly fed up with the materialistic, consumer culture that we have all been sucked into. But so are many other writers, so the question then becomes, does he say anything new about it? In some ways, yes, I think he does. I love the idea of a whole load of rich people wandering around the globe, trying to find the most outrageous party they can, and outdo each other with more absurd tales of exoticism. On a far smaller level, this is, I think, what a lot of us in the Western world – but to have people who own jets and companies doing this, you end up with feasts that have milk fed tiger as the main course. Completely ridiculous.

Gabriel’s thoughts about the state of the world are clearly an exaggerated version of what Pierre thinks, though in some places, they get a bit too ranty. His conversation with God (just roll with me here), though, puts a lot of things into perspective. Whether Pierre got this idea from Rowling, I have no idea, but there are definite parallels to be drawn. His decision, in the end, to not kill himself is, I think, a nice inversion of what we would all expect to happen. I like that he manages to find some kind of happiness, some kind of reason to live, by the end. I suppose, though, having lived through the hedonism of this novel, had Gabriel not been fully aware of the wonders of humanity, he’d be very blind indeed.

Ridiculous is the best word I can use to describe Lights Out in Wonderland. The heightened sense of reality, the exaggerated caricatures of people, and the sheer unbelievability of what happens are what make this book. Pierre has said this is the last in a loose trilogy (the other two being Vernon and Ludmilla) about contemporary consumer life and what not. If Lights Out is anything to go by, I think Pierre has faith in the modern world. Or maybe cautious optimism. At the least, he is willing to be like the rest of us, and revel in the spectacle that is modern humanity.

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