Having hugely enjoyed DBC Pierre’s Booker-winning debut novel, Vernon God Little, I picked up with LBE with a combination of both anxiety and anticipation. Vernon God Little was a remarkable tour de force of literary fiction, ergo Ludmila had big shoes to fill. Far too often, writers have had extraordinary first novels, only to descend to mediocrity, having had their fifteen seconds of fame.
I should not have worried. Pierre sure delivers the goods in his latest innings. His crackling wit, sarcastic humor and black comedy are as evident as ever. His strong rein over his characters and the wildly imaginative plot make this book a solid instalment to Pierre’s work. Granted, VGL was a far superlative oeuvre, but Ludmila shows Pierre coming into his own, developing a style to run with and maturing as a writer.
The book shuttles back and forth between modern-day London into which the Heath twins (conjoined at birth and recently separated) are startlingly exposed to life outside a health-care institute and Ublilsk, a war- ravaged fictional country, where Ludmila, our eponymous heroine, is fighting tooth and nail to keep body and soul together for herself and her family. Blair and Bunny Heath, released into a world of emancipation and wondrous possibilities are possessed of a childlike innocence and wonder akin to Huxley’s John Savage on entering the brave new world. Ludmila, on the other side of the world, is battling to keep out the cold and starvation in a world where trouble is a byword. Her resilience and acerbic wit, in addition to her resourcefulness make her a compelling protagonist, but she is beset at every turn by the establishment and society at large. Seeing no sunny prospects on her horizon, she is cajoled into becoming an internet bride with offers of rich, young, foreign men. In a ridiculously absurd turn of events, Blair Heath chances on her photo and flies out to deserted Ublilsk with his brother, pursuing juvenile fantasies of fairybook love. This leads to the book’s darkly humourous denouement, where spiked vodka and loaded guns result in an ambiguous yet satisfying ending.
Ludmila’s Broken English calls for a vast suspension of disbelief. Surreal and impossible events occur with impunity. Pierre does not deal in subtleties, but rather in exaggeration to make his point. As such, the author has characters raped and killed rather casually to make his point. Violence in Ublilsk is shown to be random and gratuitious; life is harsh, like the terrain. The novel could be seen as a vehicle to voice Pierre’s views of a crumbling, dystopian establishment and how globalization can compound and abet third-world crime a hundred fold. Stunningly inventive and laced with political commentary, Ludmila’s Broken English is well-worth a read.