Book review: Release the Bats, DBC Pierre

By Siobhan Harvey

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DBC Pierre.
DBC Pierre.

Since winning the 2003 Man Booker Prize, DBC Pierre has often been forced to come clean about past difficulties, such as his shady history as a fraudster, gambler and drug addict. In truth, though, much of that difficult life experience has sharpened the truth and resonance of his fiction, particularly his Booker-winning novel Vernon God Little, about a dysfunctional teenager on death row.

In its voicing of complications that beset Pierre as a writer and its many motes of veracity, the author's latest is a memoir, Release the Bats (subtitled "Writing your way out of it"), charting familiar territory.

An uncompromising book about how he became a writer, it's also a map of how those of us who are secret or serious scribes might better put pen to paper. In all this, Release the Bats comes close to equalling, in form, provocation and power, the best book yet published about being an author, Stephen King's superlative On Writing.

The best life-stories are bold acts of confession. Whether he tells us an apocryphal incident concerning his childhood, pilfering neighbours or his eclectic, bohemian bullfighting compadres, Release the Bats is unstinting in its revelation.

In this, it reinforces to its readers what a natural storyteller Pierre is. The fact that his confessions also reveal he's long lived life at its extremes only spices up the innate storytelling at the book's core.

Like On Writing, the finest parts of Release the Bats are undoubtedly the author's tips on technique. From how best to channel your muse to how to write effective characters, from penning gritty, authentic dialogue to how to build conflict in your writings, it's all here.

Even better, like shots of vodka, Pierre concludes the work with soundbite summaries of his key suggestions regarding craft. Rather than precis, these read like a mantra to what makes fabulous fiction.

The three words which most accurately sum up Release the Bats are "candid", "uncompromising" and "practical". Whether it's a guide to craft or a peek into an author's life you're looking for, you'll be hard-pressed - On Writing aside - to find a better writing-related memoir than this.

RELEASE THE BATS
by DBC Pierre
(Faber & Faber, $28)

- Weekend magazine

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