Petit Mal is the latest work from Booker winning author DBC Pierre. Like the End Times Trilogy, which included Vernon God Little, this latest work is set in an off-kilter world that can feel quite disorientating until you get into the flow of it. The book itself is quite a beautiful artefact, with fantastic paintings, photographs, and illustrations taking up as many pages as the short stories, philosophical musings, and autobiographical extracts. Ninety percent of the time these illustrations add to and illuminate the text, but, as is typical of Pierre, every now and then they are just there to confuse you and throw you off the scent. This is when they work best.
As for the writing, there are some blistering moments here. Most of the stories are of a length that we now seem to be calling flash fiction, but many of them join together throughout the collection to make a longer narrative. The several stories that see the protagonist come face to face with the Mother of God, only to later be seemingly scammed by her into giving away his money, are perhaps the highlight, but it isn’t easy to choose. One slightly longer story which discusses an evolving friendship between an office worker and a Trinidadian beggar who develops AIDS is tender, witty, sad, and redemptive. As one of the few solely serious works in the collection, it stands out all the more.
The additions of autobiography are intriguing. For big Pierre fans, the stories of his life after the publication of Vernon God Little will probably be of great interest. For others, this may seem a little self-indulgent. The collection is definitely at its best when rooted in fiction. The prose is exciting, the concepts often completely surreal, and as a whole, it’s an amusing and thought-provoking addition to the Pierre catalogue.
Any Cop?: For anyone who uses books as an alternative to ornaments, Petit Mal is something you’ll definitely want on your shelf. It’s worth the fee just for a flick through the pictures. Add to that a few great stories and the latest work from DBC Pierre is definitely worth a purchase.