Tag: Music

Vernon Subutex Trilogy by Virginie Despentes

Posted September 24, 2020 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Vernon Subutex Trilogy by Virginie DespentesTitle: Vernon Subutex Trilogy (Goodreads)
Author: Virginie Despentes
Translator: Frank Wynne
Published: MacLehose Press, 2017-2020
Pages: 1088
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

How many translated series can you think of? Apart from Proust, or Elena Ferrante or Karl Ove Knausgård. Maybe, there are more than I expected; Virginie Despentes’ trilogy Vernon Subutex is currently the most talked about, with book three just being released in English. This trilogy started off as a cutting-edge look into the punk sub-culture of France but slowly, with each book the focus shifted, stepping away from the music industry, towards a mystery in book two and finally the third novel focusing more on a cult-like community. While Vernon Subutex is the focus of this trilogy, I found that the different styles of each novel become a little disconcerting for myself.

Virginie Despentes draws from her own career in these books, I suspect using some of her own experiences to drive the plot. Before becoming a novelist, she worked in a few fields including as a sex worker and a pornographic film critic. While these careers play a part in the Vernon Subutex trilogy along the way, it started with her experiences as a salesclerk in a record store and a freelance rock journalist. It is these aspects that I found the most fascinating, my love of music (particularly punk rock) really drew me to this series in the first place.

I loved how the first novel focused on the music, Vernon Subutex started working in this record store in his twenties. The store was legendary back in the days, but now thanks to the internet and digital music it is struggling. Even Vernon Subutex himself has a cult-like status (which plays out more later in the series) with people on the internet speculating that he owned the last recordings of musician Alex Bleach. What I loved the most about Vernon Subutex 1 was reading about the industry and exploring the dark side of the punk culture, from the violence and drug abuse often associated with this culture to the less talked about racism and sexism.

Unfortunately, the books slowly digressed away from exploring the punk scene, and maybe my interest did as well. That is not to disregard books Two or Three, my interest was the scene and I was less interested in following the character Vernon Subutex. The first novel focused on the punk scene, whereas book two focused on this one character and a small group of people around him, a group that have banded together at a bar in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. While the plot of Vernon Subutex 2 focuses more on what happened to the lost tapes of Alex Bleach, I was more interested in themes than plot, so this became a book about class struggle.

This group of people hanging in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont turned into a cult, which leads to the third novel of this trilogy, where Vernon Subutex has become a spiritual leader to the group. The final book in the series, for me is the weakest, but it was clear Virginie Despentes knew what she was doing and where she wanted to take this journey. There was a strong focus on social struggles that plays out here, focusing more on homelessness and the way these people banded together. The cast of characters slowly shrinks with each book, but I really like how Despentes brings in new characters and then they disappear after a short period of time. This might frustrate many, but I found it natural; sometimes you meet someone, and they are only in your life for a small period of time, they might make an impact but then they are gone.

Vernon Subutex 3 was more political, with the 2015 Charles Hebdo shootings playing a part of the plot. The satirical papers controversial depictions of Muhammad are believed to be the cause of that attack. However, it was Michel Houellebecq that was on the cover of the magazine when this attack happened. I bring this up because I find Virginie Despentes and Houellebecq have similar styles. Both are satirical French authors that make me question myself and their writing style. They leave me with an unease while reading them and I spend time contemplating their satirical nature. I even find myself wondering if they are actually satirical or just overdoing the transgressive. This is not easy reading and knowledge of the punk scene and modern French history became vital aspects of my appreciation of Vernon Subutex.

When I think about the writing of Virginie Despentes, I have a similar feeling as when I think about Michel Houellebecq, I am unsure how I feel about them as authors. I have read five Despentes novels and while I enjoyed the Vernon Subutex trilogy, I find it hard to fully appreciate her works. Her writing is a combination of the thriller genre, but it tends to be overly transgressive. I am not trying to be negative, just not the style of literature I tend to enjoy. I am curious to know more about Despentes’ life and might read her feminist manifesto King Kong Theory, which like the Vernon Subutex trilogy has been translated by the legendary Frank Wynne.

Cherry Bomb by Jenny Valentish

Posted January 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Cherry Bomb by Jenny ValentishTitle: Cherry Bomb (Goodreads)
Author: Jenny Valentish
Published: Allen & Unwin, 2014
Pages: 384
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Nina and Rose Dall have always dreamed of being rock stars. Influenced by her aunty Alannah Dall, a pop sensation in the 1980’s, Nina along with her cousin started a punk band known as The Bain-Maries until being signed and renamed The Dolls. Cherry Bomb tells the story of The Dolls rise to fame and the wild ride they faced while navigating the Australian music scene.

Cherry Bomb is told much like a memoir, where Nina Dall is recounting the career of The Dolls. This allowed Jenny Valentish the ability to write a coming of age story that mixes a “rise to fame” journey with a social commentary of the music industry. Before writing her debut novel, Valenstish worked as a music publicist and journalist with her time spent as a columnist for NME and an editor for Triple J’s magazine Jmag. This knowledge on the music industry allowed her to write a social commentary that focuses on the way woman are treated within the industry.

I picked up this book thinking it was a contemporary and fun read, which it mainly was; I was pleasantly surprised to find the social criticism. Cherry Bomb has shades of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby throughout the novel but for the most part it felt fresh. I was particularly fascinated by the playlist in the back on the book and would love to see a Spotify (Jenny Valentish does have a Cherry Bomb playlist, but it is different to The Doll’s playlist in the back of the book) playlist just so I can list to all those songs.

While this might be something different from what I normally read, I do try to explore all kinds of literature so hopefully people aren’t too surprised to see me read this one. However I will mention that I picked up this novel because the blurbs for the book were all done by Australian musicians, instead of other authors and I thought that was a unique concept and made me feel that Jenny Valentish may have captured the music industry correctly. Cherry Bomb is an entertaining read full of sex, drugs and rock and roll and I look forward to reading Valentish’s next novel.

EDIT: The good people from Allen and Ulwin have already created the Cherry Bomb Spotify playlist.

ArmchairBEA 2014: Author Interaction & More Than Just Words

Posted May 27, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in ArmchairBEA / 29 Comments


Day two here at Armchair BEA and we are talking author interaction & more than just words. Where I live we tend not to get many authors up, but when we do, I often try and catch their readings, book signings or talks. It can be difficult when they are authors that you’ve never read or have no interest in reading; I want to be supportive of the authors that do come to this city but I also don’t want to be stuck buying books I don’t plan to read.

I’ve had some great experiences with authors, from hanging out with them at a cocktail party (Trudi Canavan, Rachel Caine and Felicia Day), to having great conversations them on Twitter (I still get excited when Megan Abbott replies to a tweet or Gary Shteyngart favourites a tweet) to awkward book signings (I’m thinking about the time Nick Earls signed a book ‘My apologises for not being Russian and long dead’). Some authors know how to interact to the public and I have to respect them.

2014-05-21 11.14.00

However there is the other side of the pendulum, the authors that should just get off social networking or take a leaf from J.D. Salinger’s book and avoid all people. Authors need to remember and accept the fact that not all readers are going to enjoy their books. I write negative reviews and I do try to be constructive when I do so but authors can get so defensive and venomous towards negative feedback that they should stop reading their reviews. I’m not just talking about personal experience, I’m talking about comments you see on Twitter or the bullying on Goodreads. I do understand this can be an issue for reviewers as well but I tend to think if you can’t handle negative feedback (this goes for reviewers too) then stay away from the internet.  I’ll end my rant there.

Moving on to the topic of more than just words, where I want to discuss a few things. Firstly audiobooks (as long as they are unabridged) counts as reading. Just because you are getting a book read to you doesn’t mean you are not experiencing it. Sure an audiobook is a completely different experience but I think it does not matter that the listener has not read the book. Our brains are wonderful and complex things, I think to read the book aloud in my head and an audio book is similar but someone else reading it. I still process it in similar ways and retention levels tend to be the same (for me anyway). I listen to a lot of audiobooks; mainly become I work on a computer all day with headphones in. Sometimes music is good, but I find audiobooks (especially when it comes to non-fiction and hard novels) can be a great way to experience a book while working.

Now there is the concept of graphic novels, I’ve seen people really take them on board and others avoid them at all cost. For those who do avoid graphic novels I’d love to know why. I worry people get the wrong idea about graphic novels and think they are all about superheroes with powers, but there are some great ones out there. If you want some recommendations check out my post where I suggest five different graphic novels to try that don’t feature super heroes.

ArmchairBEA is a virtual convention for book blogger who can’t attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Button by Sarah of Puss Reboots

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne

Posted July 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Humour / 0 Comments

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy WayneTitle: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Goodreads)
Author: Teddy Wayne
Published: Free Press, 2013
Pages: 304
Genres: Humour
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Eleven year old pop sensation Jonny Valentine knows that people love him. The singer’s voice, hairdo and image, carefully packaged together by his LA label and manager/mother are what they really love. But within this mass marketing machine, the real Jonny is hidden somewhere. This is the story of Jonny Valentine, a vulnerable boy perplexed but his budding sexuality, his celebrity heartthrob status, the tight control his mother has over him and his absent father.

This book has been on my radar for a while now and I’m not really sure how it got there, I didn’t know many people who had read it. In fact I only discovered two people in my book blogger RSS that had read this book (Jennifer from The Relentless Reader & Kristin from My Little Heart Melodies) when I added the novel to Goodreads as ‘Currently Reading’. Having said I knew that this was a satirical look at Justin Beiber and that was enough to convince me to read it. While this is in fact true, I didn’t expect what I got; not only was it a humorous look at celebrity heartthrobs, it also has some really interesting things to say about growing up in that position.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine follows the pop star on a tour for his second album, everything part of his professional career has been carefully planned out by his label and his manager, Jane, who is also his mother. The label and his mother don’t often see eye to eye, most of the time you get the impression that Jane is looking out for her son but then you also think she is too controlling. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I wouldn’t want an eleven year old celebrity looking at what has been said about them on the internet. The label works to slowly push Jonny’s mother out and replace her with someone more experience (I say that loosely) in the hopes to have more control of his image and career. Sex sells, the label knows this but Jane does not want to resort to that method until Jonny has at least gone through puberty.

Then you have Jonny’s life outside of performing, his tutoring, vocal lessons, exercise and meal plans and video games. Constantly in a bus with other members of his crew (manager, vocal coach, tutor, bodyguard, and road crew) you get a sense of a lonely boy without any real friends his own age. His new support act are closer to his age and when he hangs out with them he soon finds himself getting into trouble. His hormones are starting to take over his body and this also leads him astray; since his mother is too busy being his manager he often spends his nights and afternoons alone playing video games and thinking about sex.

There is also the absent father, one night while sneaking some internet time, Jonny Valentine finds his father searching from him on a few of his fan forums. Feeling reluctant Jonny sets up a Gmail account and emails him asking for proof that he is really is his father. Without going into too much about what happens in the novel there are so many incredibly funny moments within this book. The fact that a newly setup Gmail account gets so much spam made me chuckle, since Google claim to have strong protection against spammers. This is one of many things that just tickled my fancy in the novel, it kind of reminds me of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk with the comedic look at celebrity life (again I say that loosely) and in the style.

One of the most entertaining books I’ve read so far this year, I’m surprised that this novel hasn’t received more coverage. The cover alone makes this book worth buying, look at it; it’s so shiny and distracting. Not only is this novel jammed with humour and entertainment, its thought provoking and will get you thinking about celebrities in ways you’ve never expected. I hope more people go out and read The Love Song of Jonny Valentine because it’s well worth it, I really need to find some more books like this, if you have any suggestions.

The Sub-Cultures – Emo

Posted February 1, 2010 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Culture / 3 Comments

Disclaimer: While I don’t agree in the whole Sub-Culture labeling it does play a big part in culture itself. So I will try to remain unbiased and not try to stereotype any sub-culture.

Possible one of the most misunderstood sub-cultures is the Emo movement. While there is a lot of stigma with this group there really aren’t grounds for it. The Emo movement is based around the rock genre of the same name, though no band claims to be an Emo band.

The Non-Existent Genre

The genre of music began in the mid 80’s as an off shoot of the Hardcore and Punk genre. In those days these styles and even grunge music was very political based and the people listened to it, while they enjoyed the music didn’t really care about politics. So a whole lot of bands started popping up that would start singing about something other that politics, they started singing something more personal. Those bands were labelled Emocore or Emo, the artists themselves never claimed to be apart of the genre, they just claim that they writing songs about their emotions and what’s going on in their world. If no band claims to be an Emo band, can it really be a music genre? Thus the reason why this is a non-existent genre

The Sub-Culture

“We’re all alone, together”

This is the response a girl said when asked about being an Emo. While amusing it does sum up the movement pretty well. The whole culture has been considered to be all about social withdrawal and suicide but the people that do claim to be Emo would probably say otherwise. They would probably say it’s not about self injury but more about expressing emotions, speaking out about the feelings of alienation, depression and angst.

Revisiting an Old Movement

The whole culture behind Emo’s is nothing new, in fact it’s almost modernising the whole Romantic Movement. There is so many connections between the two, both Romantism and Emo focus on the emotion and not order and both would be considered socially outcasts in there relevant societies.

Ultimately the whole movement is a much mocked, maligned, and misunderstood term for melodic, expressive people.

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