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19 August 2020

DBC Pierre Q+A: “What would make my life better? A tapir”

The Vernon God Little author talks Japanese samurais, Judge Judy and the rise of surveillance capitalism.

By New Statesman

DBC Pierre was born in South Australia in 1961 and grew up in Mexico. In 2003 he won the Booker Prize for his debut novel “Vernon God Little”. He lives in Cambridgeshire.

What’s your earliest memory?

Being christened in church. It could be a false memory. But I remember the cold, the echoes of water. I remember howling about it. The devil didn’t want to come out.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was Shintaro, a Samurai from Japanese TV. Kabuki faces are natural to kids, and Shintaro was a master of open-mouthed horror. If I combine the Kabuki with the physicist Hugh Everett III, author of the relative state formulation of quantum mechanics, there’s a hero for today.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Guardians by John Christopher, a 1970 young-adult novel and a poignant distance-measuring device of what we expected and wished young adults to be.

Which political figure do you look up to?

The Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata Salazar. In the small print of his legend lies the chaos of practical matters he surfed while staying true to his goal.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Aviation. Don’t even get me started.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Urban western Europe in 1735, a peak of civilisation and manners (granted: as an affluent white male).

What TV show could you not live without?

Judge Judy. The fast turnover of guests makes the show a buffet of syntax and mannerisms. You can spot changes entering the language as guests from different regions repeat forms. (Currently: “I had went”, “They had tooken”, which is climbing through the American middle class and headed over here.)

Who would paint your portrait?

No one that I know of. If it’s a fantasy question, then František Kupka, who painted The Yellow Scale.

What’s your theme tune?

A quantum superposition of three elements: the Andante in Holst’s Japanese Suite, the theme from the original Lost in Space and Johnny Aloha’s cover of “California Gurls”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve  ever received?

Work with what you have today, don’t wait for better conditions. It’s probably why my first work was a book and not a painting or a film.

What’s currently bugging you?

Surveillance capitalism. Lockdown has been a decisive tug on its hook down our throats.

What single thing would make your life better?

A tapir. Just its form moving around through the window would be a constant reminder that we live in a Goldilocks universe, where beauty can be strange in its proportions.

When were you happiest?

Tomorrow is the constant answer. But prior to that, in 1996 when I lived on an island with emerald green fireflies.

In another life, what job might you  have chosen?

I would pilot something over long distances: a plane, a boat or a train.

Are we all doomed?

Of course. But we knew this all along. It’s where we get our appreciation of wine.

“Meanwhile in Dopamine City” by DBC Pierre is published by Faber & Faber