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Date: 22 October, 2003

Click on the book cover above to purchase it and raise money for Christian Aid projects. Image: Faber and Faber

'How can the massacre of a class of teenagers affect the life of a small town?'

Vernon God Little, a book by the winner of this year's Man Booker prize, DBC Pierre, is an unpleasant but compelling read, says Charlotte Haines

"I'm a kid whose best friend took a gun into his mouth and blew off his hair, whose classmates are dead, who's being blamed for it all . . ."

Vernon Gregory Little is in a nightmare, partly because of a bowel complaint, partly because of the actions of his mother and her friends, but mainly because Vernon is the ultimate victim of circumstance.

Whilst not necessarily being the most ideal teenager a mother could want, Vernon demands empathy. He is traumatized by the killing of his friends and is rightly fearful that nobody will listen to his side of the story instead of simply focusing on circumstantial evidence.

Determined to protect the memory of his friend Jesus and his family's secrets, the 16 year-old is repaid with treachery and incompetence from all around, whether it is his mother, her callously competitive friends or the media. The lure of one-upmanship and fortune continually get in the way of truth.

DBC Pierre, winner of this year's Man Booker Prize, has written a sharp and grotesque satire, attacking key components of western lifestyle: fame hunger, media frenzy, image consciousness, diets and Nike.

His comment is made all the more powerful for setting this story of loyalty and betrayal in a backwater of Texas. How can the massacre of a class of teenagers affect the life of a small town?

Despite heavily borrowing from the style of Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye', Pierre, a.k.a. Australian Peter Finlay, stamps originality throughout the novel. His imagery batters your senses with sentences like: "A receptionist with spiky teeth, and a voice box made from bees trapped in tracing paper, sits behind a desk."

Unlike many brilliantly written books, Vernon God Little is not a pleasant book to read but it is compelling. Just as you fear that the plot is becoming farcical and predictable, you are whipped with caustic wit into a new direction. Yes, it is brash and uncomfortable but then so is the subject matter.

Capturing the mindset of a teenager is always difficult, but in the main Pierre has managed it, although if you recoil at swear words this may not be the book for you. The novel, despite at times having a certain humour, should actually belong to the horror genre: the frightening thing about this prizewinner is that the characters and their actions are just too real.

Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre, Faber and Faber 277pp £10.99