Edinburgh International Book Festival: DBC Pierre

Review by Ross McIndoe | 29 Aug 2013
  • DBC Pierre

“Day by day, I think we’re fucking doomed.” DBC Pierre’s verdict on the future of humanity is typical of the cynical humour that characterises his work. His bleak world-view is undercut by a devilish wit that allows him to bounce between subjects as diverse as writing, religion and Russian translation, dispatching each with the same wry irreverence.

Although regularly side-tracked down alleys as obscure and diverse as his penchant for a rare Mexican liquor named Solto (a bottle of which is promptly produced and dispensed amongst the audience) and dreams about the Virgin Mary, the subject of writing itself is the one he lands back on most often. What he terms the “psychological management of writing a book” is clearly a fascination of his: unsurprising given how arduous an exercise he personally finds it, requiring precise conditions both external and internal before he can write anything at all. Right up until its completion, Pierre himself was the only person to have laid eyes on the eventual Booker Prize-winning Vernon God Little, and he remains adamantly against allowing anyone else to view work before its finished, claiming that “In writing, you can’t have anyone looking over your shoulder, it has to be invisible. Once someone sees it, it’s dead.”

His newest book, Petit Mal, is an eclectic collection of short stories, essays, anecdotes and even the occasional comic strip with a tone that’s no less varied, fluctuating wildly between whimsical flights of fancy and rock-hard realism. The jarring effect, Pierre claims, is designed to create an “allegory of fragments” to reflect a modern world in which different countries are essentially living in separate centuries: “A world where people beg with dead babies” whilst other live in an “elite bubble” of smartphones and skinny lattes. Though it is in part a social commentary, Pierre thrusts himself right in amongst the world he’s scrutinising with the inclusion of tales from his own life, saying “I don’t hold myself outside anything I talk about”. Though he satirises the rest of the human species and the entire world around him, he makes no claim to amnesty from his sardonic critiques and places his own flaws front and centre before discussing those of the world at large.

On the latter, though, his thoughts are uniformly yet hilariously bleak. Having already written off the species’ future, he proceeds to lay into its present incarnation – “We are as greedy and stupid and selfish as we ever were. Absolutely”, the impending extinction of the novel – “A future is coming where all the things we’ve relied upon up until now will be irrelevant” - and the foolishness of becoming a writer –“It’s a risky and quite stupid gamble compared to getting a job”. However, he is careful never to say anything controversial simply for controversy’s sake: even his bleakest and most facetious pronouncements are underpinned with real substance and swiftly followed with thoughtful explanations as to precisely why we’re all so fucking doomed.

DBC Pierre appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 22 Aug. http://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/dbc-pierre-1