Meanwhile in Dopamine City
Meanwhile in Dopamine City, the latest from DBC Pierre, offers exactly the kind of stylistic pyrotechnics that we might expect from the Australian novelist, whose Vernon God Little unexpectedly won the Man Booker Prize back in 2003. This death-laden debut, celebrated for its savagely dark humour and sparkling, if profane, vernacular, was exactly the kind of novel a man of Pierre’s riotous background, which included years of vagabondage, addiction and con artistry, would have written.
Meanwhile, his more recent endeavour is set in a hyper-mediatized near-future and quasi-dystopia. Lon (or ‘Lonnie’), the book’s protagonist, is a single father who has just been made redundant. In a disturbing early scene, Lon strikes his daughter, the precocious Shelby-Anne, who is nine-years-old. This prompts a visit from the city’s social services, who demand Lon be placed under a regime of strict surveillance, replete with drones, machine learning algorithms, ‘dopamine tethers’ and robots.
Meanwhile undergoes a striking narratological shift about a third of the way in: the text bifurcates into two separate columns; on one side, conventional first-person narration; on the other, a social media feed. This, coupled with the relentlessly frenetic style will be a lot – perhaps too much – for many readers.
While admirably inventive, Pierre’s latest is beset by the shortcomings James Wood once ascribed to a genre he called ‘hysterical realism’: Meanwhile is a ‘perpetual motion machine’ that mistakes vitality for life.
Words: Luke Warde