... 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.
... 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.
One thing is certain, this is no ordinary sequel – the assured cohesion is seamless. Only – reader warning – do read one before two ... Despentes continues her picaresque tour de force with the same driving energy sustained by vicious wit, exasperation, stark insight and compelling empathy ... In her seething Paris of messed-up losers and relentless operators, Despentes exposes a universal society gone mad on greed, fear and ruthlessness. It is terrifying and all too recognisable; the rhythmic fluency is brilliantly evoked by master translator Frank Wynne, who captures each operatic flourish down to the slightest, eloquent beat. It is cinema, theatre and every rock concert you ever attended ... The dialogue soars not only as quick-fire exchanges but as a knowing commentary on present-day society. Despentes misses nothing; her vision possesses an intoxicating righteousness ... Among the several artistic and unexpectedly subtle, quasi-philosophical insights which Despentes consolidates in the second book is his bizarre reinvention. Or to be more accurate, she carefully charts the gradual re-alignment of Vernon ... Amidst sequences of frantic partying as group therapy, there are slow movements allowing for back story and character development, but it is clear that this relative lull before the storm, is preparing for the apocalyptic finale of Vernon Subutex 3 which is heading our way.