... a bona fide magnum opus ... A master of the free indirect style, Ms. Despentes inhabits the minds of a diverse cast of characters while doing for Paris what Joyce did for Dublin ... While Ms. Despentes can be a savage observer of that world, she’s also capable of creating moments of surpassing vulnerability. Yet the quality that struck this reader most forcibly is her freedom of thought. She simply does not care about political niceties, which allows her to extend imaginatively—though always unsparingly—into the lives of the losers, abusers, outcasts and reactionaries who brush shoulders on the Métro every morning. In contrast to the cautious moralizing of so much American fiction, Ms. Despentes’s teeming feat of negative capability is all the more exhilarating.
For books with so much plot, this trilogy is amazingly interior. It is a string of torrential confessionals in which each character gets at least one chapter. They reflect, at length, on their own social situations, which provides many of them with just cause for resentment ... Vernon Subutex is written as if to act not as literature exactly, in its typical arena, but rather head-to-head with the dominant culture—up against the edifice that she identifies. That logic of multiplication and diversity, the scale and the frenzy of invention in this trilogy, and Despentes’s own larger-than-life resourcefulness all have an aspect of horror, suggesing in their negative the vastness and intractability of the power in her sights.
... Despentes at her most compassionate, and hopeful ... Despentes’ writing is caustic, but generous even to her least-sympathetic characters. Racism, bigotry, domestic violence and abuse of power all feature in Vernon Subutext, viewed through the eyes of perpetrators as often as through those of their victims. Despentes has not so much moved away from feminism as broadened her cross hairs: the rage which fuelled her debut, the revenge fantasy Baise-Moi (1994), is still there, as are the conflicts, injustices and hypocrisies addressed in subsequent works like Bye Bye Blondie (2004), Pretty Things (2008) and Apocolypse Baby (2010). In the Vernon books, however, these themes have fermented into something at once introspective and overarching...now Despentes envisions what comes after the rampage ... the culmination of a career spent scratching at scars and exposing society’s contradictions: the smarmy yet self-loathing middle classes, the complicit women, the men inside the patriarchal system who seem barely capable of being, let alone wanting to be in control. Despentes identifies these flaws and looks closer rather than turning away ... Her writing is no longer about being Virginie Despentes; it’s about imagining the future.