Vernon Subutex 1 | The legacy of Generation X


Recently, a friend on Facebook shared photos of the Mars record store, which was located on Sainte-Catherine Street and where I spent many hours of my adolescence.

Posted at 8:15 am

It was a real dusty hole full of records and junk, with no heating in the winter. We risked freezing if we searched too long for rows of vinyl records. We didn’t have a smartphone to download music or to capture every second of our existence, which could have given us an archive. We would happily stop on Mars, which would always exist, as we would forever remain young, in this pivotal moment when music is at the center of our identity, our friendships and our loves.

Whenever I come across photos of old defunct record shops, such as Mars, Dutchy’s, Rock in Stock, Primitive or Sam the Record Man, a fictional character looms over my memories: Vernon Subutex. The hero of Virginie Despentes’ trilogy of novels, which I consider to be one of the most powerful works of contemporary French literature. Of these works that do not sail in the air of time, but that capture it and record it in literature for eternity.

This character (Vernon Subutex) alone embodies all that we have lost with the triumph of neoliberalism combined with technology, as a missing link.

The proof that Virginie Despentes touches something essential with this social fresco is that artists are increasingly appropriating her work. Vernon Subutex it has been the subject of a superb Luz comic, has been transposed into a bad TV series (denied by Despentes) on Canal + and is currently adapted for the Montreal and Paris theater by two different directors. Thomas Ostermeier at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris tackles the first volume of the trilogy while in Montreal Angela Konrad, new director of Usine C, proposes her own version of the same volume. The two intend to adapt the entire trilogy and for fans of Vernon Subutex like me, it probably sounds like a strange type is heard when he discovers that Denis Villeneuve is adapting Dunes At Cinema…

But who is Vernon Subutex? A 45-year-old record shop, former owner of the Revolver, which everyone has frequented, and which the dematerialization of music against the backdrop of the economic crisis is slowly slipping towards the homeless. Vernon Subutex has always been carried away by life, but the world around him has completely changed. He became economically violent. He was atomized into a crowd of individual frustrations under the cover of an increasingly heavy capitalism, which killed conditions by allowing a counterculture, another way of life. Pursued from his apartment, Vernon Subutex contacts his old friends who he has lost sight of in his drift and is a world that is reborn, even damaged.

Seeing characters embodied before our eyes who have become almost imaginary friends is wonderful, especially when it’s done right. Angela Konrad’s proposal with Vernon Subutex 1 Usine C loved it – as did my colleague Stéphanie Morin who is writing the review here:

Starting with the choice in the role of Vernon by David Boutin, who has his mouth open at work. To play Vernon, you need to have the age, the sleazy and vulnerable side, but also a charisma and still effective sex appeal. Vernon Subutex is a bit of a figure of Christ, who brings to himself the disciples of a religion, that of a young man who communicated through music and a lifestyle that placed art and friendship at the center of existence, that made community. If Vernon Subutex manages to squat so many people’s couches fucked upwhether they are in order or not, rich or not – in any case they are all unhappy and in a form of wandering – it is because everyone sees in him something that has determined him, a cardinal point that underlines how far we can go from that to we once believed.

In Vernon Subutex 1 by Angela Konrad, the actors remain close to Despentes’s text while maintaining the Québécois accent, even though the story takes place in Paris, and this does not detract from the experience. On the contrary, it is another proof that the writer is touching something essential with this work, because the Vernon Subutex are found in all the major urban centers. It is not easy to summarize in one piece, which here lasts three hours, this fresco that many have compared to Balzac’s work (on coca and in the punk spirit), but Angela Konrad manages to make you want to read, or reread, this furious Testament of Generation X. Can’t wait for the sequel!

Vernon Subutex 1, based on the novel by Virginie Despentes. Adapted and directed by Angela Konrad. With David Boutin, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Dominique Quesnel and six other artists. At Fabbrica C until June 22nd.

The integral of Vernon Subutexadaptation of the three volumes of the work of Virginie Despentes, will be presented at Usine C from January 2024.


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