DBC Pierre interview

The Man Booker-winning author on the autobiographical aspects of his new book

Interview, The Knowledge
Interview, The Knowledge
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Pierre’s third novel, Lights Out in Wonderland, follows 25-year-old Gabrielle Brockwell – a bon vivant with a death wish – and his travels from escaping rehab to eating wild fugu in Japan to making the world’s most outrageous feast in Berlin. Mind-altering hijinks ensue.

Are you as big a fan of excess as your main character, Gabriel Brockwell?
Yeah, but in a much more measured way than I was. I used to be interested in just excess – in oblivion – when I was younger, whereas now I play a much longer game. I like to observe and really savour things so I can spend many hours without actually having to do very much. Without having to drink, or anything. Just soaking things up.

One of our favourite passages in Lights Out is Brockwell’s friend Nelson Smuts cooking a suckling pig in a crematorium. It’s a fantastic piece of food writing in a non-food book. Is there a real Nelson Smuts?
Smuts is a real guy – an Aussie. He’s a chef and he has that character. I won’t put the stories on him – obviously he’s not in jail in Japan. As we speak, Smuts is off on some seven-star private yacht in Monte Carlo or something.

A lot of the book is quite food-centric. Did Smuts offer any advice while you were writing?
I actually lived with Smuts – we shared a house years ago. He’s the one who infected me with ideas of really, really good food and really, really good raw materials. He also has very good contacts with vets and zoologists, so he advised on the recipes for endangered species. If anyone catches those animals, they should find [the recipes] work very well.

If there were two dodos left in the world and you had the opportunity to eat one, would you give it a go?
Well, no. I wouldn’t eat the penultimate dodo in the world. But if, in some back street in Portugal in a corner shop I saw an old dusty tin of dodo, I would.

Have you ever eaten fugu [poisonous Japanese pufferfish]?
Yes I have, but nothing really dicey.

Gabrielle Brockwell spends a lot of his time being dictated by the ‘Enthusiasms’. What are they, exactly?
The Enthusiasms refer to the passions – to those things inside us that I think psychology today would call compulsion and drive. So at certain moments we go: ‘do you know what? I’m doing that anyway.’ It’s that little edge that takes you outside of your perfect social model – that is your enthusiasm.

Is Lights Out in Wonderland autobiographical?
It is in many respects, and it became so. It was a very introspective and reclusive time. And having to get into the book was a very, very low time so a lot of these musings on suicide and stuff are from toying with that very thing. Although of course I never set out with any kind of wish like [Gabrielle Brockwell’s]. I certainly got into the frame of mind of it. Now what I need is a manic phase…

It’s time for the Enthusiasms to kick in.
Exactly – I’ll write a three-page book that just goes ‘YAAAAHHH’.
Lights out in Wonderland is published by WW Norton & Company


Five things you may not know about DBC Pierre

1 His real name is Peter Finlay.

2 DBC stands for ‘Dirty But Clean’.Pierre is his high-school nickname.

3 The author rose to prominence after writing Vernon God Little, a sharp, acerbic commentary on religion, gun culture, the media and growing up in the US. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2003.

4 DBC Pierre took much of his material for Lights Out in Wonderland from his own experiences as a drug addict.

5 The author has lived in no less than six countries. Born in Australia, he has lived in the West Indies, Mexico, England and Spain, and now resides in Ireland.

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