‘The sometimes overly philosophical musing jarred somewhat with plot’ – Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre

Excess permeates DBC Pierre’s new novel, Lights Out in Wonderland, an allegorical tale of the absurdity of the late capitalist system that has become the norm for most in the western world. Beginning with protagonist Gabriel Brockwell deliberating the merits of suicide in the aftermath of a drugs binge and failed anti capitalist protest, the book travels from London to Toyko and finally to Berlin in a tale of capitalist excess, exotic menus and fish tank sex as Gabriel tries to prevent best friend Nelson Smuts from languishing in a Japanese jail.

DBC Pierre’s prose is at times philosophical and thought provoking whilst always keeping one eye on the ridiculousness of the world in which we live in. The parts of the book that really stand out are those that cackle with sarcasm invoked by Gabriel’s character assassinations.  Waking up in rehab, Gabriel encounters David, the facility manager who he describes a ‘sallow man… with eyes like boiled eggs’. Along with the girl with a face so long that she looks like a Dali painting, he represents the conformity of sobriety that Gabriel is so desperate to escape. The detailed and scathing descriptions of mundane modernity are in sharp contrast Gabriel’s increasingly bizarre adventures as he tries to navigate his way through a serious of increasingly messy situations. In an ill-feted trip to Tokyo, Gabriel further runs amok, narrowly escaping with his life and liberty after a bad experience with poisonous fish. Chaos follows Gabriel to Berlin, where he must reconcile East German sensibilities with the complexities of modern day capitalism in order to find a way for his best friend to escape jail. The variety of settings the novel accommodates adds an epic feel to the novel, aptly reflecting the global markets of capitalism that Gabriel is railing against.

Gabriel, who in many ways is symbolic of the cultural and economic fatigue felt by many, is the central figure of the novel; however, I found that towards the end, the sometimes overly philosophical musing jarred somewhat with plot, whilst I began to get annoyed with the constant use of asterisks, which made me feel like I was reading a textbook at times. Add to this the ever growing cast of supporting characters, and I did find myself getting lost towards the end.  However it was some of these peripheral characters who added to the charm of the story, with Gerd and Anna providing  some moments of humanity and  warmth amongst the excess and greed exhibited by the other characters. Essentially, it is the contrast between Anna, Gerd and the other German characters with the flashy businessmen with money to burn, which sums up the moral ambiguity of the novel. Gabriel is the embodiment of these contradictions, as he attempts to do the right thing by his friend whilst indulging in the capitalist excess that he claims to despise. It is the constant need to compromise morals with practicality which sums up the modern world in which we live in.

Claire Sedgwick

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