Breakfast with the Borgias
The new DBC Pierre is always worth waiting for, less for its writing than to see what this shameless chancer will do next.
That is perhaps unfair. Half-Australian, former resident of Mexico City, Peter Finlay shot to fame and solvency with his debut novel Vernon God Little, the beguiling first-person tale of a kid falsely accused of a US schoolyard massacre, taking in a wild road trip across Mexico and much more, spiralling upwards into a demented surrealism. When the novel won the 2003 Booker Prize, it became clear that his backstory added a vital element to the tale. Finlay, who had taken the nom-de-plume “Dirty-But-Clean” Pierre, had been a member of the demimonde and a wastrel – drugs, booze, art ripoffs, overturned cars – for much of his adult life (part of the Booker money went to repaying people he’d ripped off), before hunkering down in London to write a trilogy of the modern world, of which Vernon would be the first part.
His publishers tried to steer him off that idea, and they were right, because Lights Out in Wonderland, the third volume, was straining to portray a world of late capitalist nihilism, and Ludmila’s Broken English was a typical mess of a second novel. A volume of occasional pieces landed without remark. Did Finlay/Pierre have something left in his bag of tricks?
The answer, with Breakfast with the Borgias, is yes and no. This short tale of Ariel Panek, an AI researcher, waylaid en route to a rendezvous with a comely student in Amsterdam and forced to stay in a fogbound hotel on the Suffolk coast, is part of a revived version of the British Hammer horror books series. Originally part of the stable that produced the unforgettable schlock films, this new series aims to blend high and low themes and styles.
Panek’s companions at the Cliffs Hotel are a family of three trapped in an endless war over a failed business, a delusional teenager, and a handful of ancient staff – all of whom are no help to Panek in getting a message to his girlfriend, that he’s going to be late. It’s overwritten and badly fashioned, but because it’s a genre piece, it’s worth persevering for the neat twists by which the plot is eventually bound and tied. But never has a book been more disadvantaged by its packaging, with pretensions to literariness. If you thought it was a serious work, you’d throw it across the room. Oh Pierre, you’ve done it again. What’s next? XS
Hammer, 256pp, $24.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 9, 2014 as "DBC Pierre, Breakfast with the Borgias". Subscribe here.