Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ludmila’s Broken English

Vernon God Little was one of my favourite books of 2004, so I went into DBC Pierre’s second novel, Ludmila’s Broken English expecting a lot, which is after all, what the second novel is supposedly about: expectation. I feel for Pierre in this novel, he obviously tried so hard to upstage VGL, adult characters, several settings, conjoined twins, a civil war in Ubilisk (a fictional Eastern European country). This had all the makings of something great.

The book has Pierre’s trademark metaphorical wizardry and odd, combative characters. The settings were great, with a kind of underbelly feeling - a rundown healthcare facility, seedy nightclubs, a wartorn town.

Ultimately though, the novel is let down by its action. Where VGL was tense and looming, a road trip to disaster, LBE seemed for the most part stuck in each scene. It chopped between two recently released twins in London and Ludmila, a young woman trying to escape poverty in Ubilisk. I’m not sure if this alternating format worked for Pierre, just as I was getting into one scene it would jump to another, the result was that nothing seemed to happen for a long time. I wasn’t really interested until the twins actually hopped on a plane and headed across Europe and the two worlds met. Up until then it seemed like a slow build-up and just didn’t have the pulling power that VGL (or most other novels) have.

It is unfair to compare the first and second novels of course, but even on it’s own I would have struggled to finish this book. And indeed, I did have to force myself. The blood spattered ending was bizarre too; characters suddenly dead who had been with us all the way through and a strange resolution which I won’t give away.

I liked Ludmila, she was obnoxious, intelligent and naive and seemed destined for disaster, much like Vernon in Pierre's previous novel. Although she always seemed like a secondary story to the twins, and I think here might lie one of the problems of the book. She seemed like the true heart of it and I don't think Pierre gave her enough texture to make her (and the book?) really come alive.

For me DBC Pierre is one of the most original writers around, and I'm willing to give him another couple of books' grace to really hit that sweet spot. Roll on the next one.
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