Ludmila's Broken English by DBC Pierre Faber & Faber, $188 In his debut novel, Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre took J.D. Salinger's ur-teenager and updated him for the 21st century in the form of Vernon Gregory Little, a hapless Texan teenager wrongfully accused of a school massacre. Vernon's voice was teeming with vulgar aphorisms, observations and metaphors that had never been seen in the pages of a Booker Prize-winning novel before. Most importantly, the book had a crude honesty and wisdom that stood out in a literary scene populated by polite and elegant novels. Although Pierre made his name on the literary scene as a purveyor of literary vulgarism, Ludmila's Broken English is distinctly different from his debut in its temper and intensity. The book is composed of two separate strands of narrative set in opposite ends of the European continent: half in an ambiguously futuristic England overrun by rampant privatisation and the spectre of terrorism, and half in the fictional region of Ublilsk, 'a compacted heap of dung and snow ... neither yet a country nor still a province' somewhere in the war-torn Caucasus. In London a pair of 33-year-old conjoined twins, Blair and Gordon Heath, have just been surgically separated and turned loose from the newly privatised institution in which they grew up. In Ublilsk, meanwhile, the young, beautiful and foul-mouthed Ludmila Derev plans to escape from a life of poverty in the Caucasus and a wretched family. Although it takes Pierre some 250 pages to get there, the reader can sense from the outset that this is a novel of convergence in which two unrelated narratives eventually collide. The most striking thing about Ludmila's Broken English, for fans of Vernon God Little, is its stylistic solemnity. Pierre emerges from his second novel scarcely recognisable as the writer whose prose once drew (unfavourable) comparisons with Beavis and Butthead, something that can safely be attributed to a conscious attempt to write a more conventional style of narrative this time around. Most obviously, Pierre has made a bold decision in leaving behind the first person, his most comfortable voice and the device that gave his first book its energy, in favour of a conventional narrative that leaves him remote from his characters. But he is an author who seems distinctly ill at ease trying to do the conventional: his descriptions are overwrought and peppered with outrageously elaborate metaphors that are the enemy of good prose. Finishing the book the reader is left with the sense that Pierre is grappling with a severe case of second-novel-syndrome, earnestly trying to live up to the inevitable sense of expectation that followed his wildly successful debut. At its core, Ludmila's Broken English is an intensely political novel, in which Pierre takes aim at a range of targets in the globalised world. To this end, he's almost aggressively allusive, filling his narrative with oblique political asides that range from the contemporary - Blair and Gordon draw their names from the current British prime minister and his soon-to-be successor Gordon Brown - to the classical - the father of Russian anarchism Peter Kropotkin, Benjamin Disraeli and even Lenin's mother all make appearances. The effect of all this, however, seems to be little more than a confused smattering of wily allusions and internal arguments, with the author never reaching a definitive verdict on the issue of globalisation. Which begs the question of how much of the political knowledge Pierre so eagerly imparts is serving to enrich the story and how much of it is rank self-indulgence. Pierre has clearly written his sophomore novel with at least one eye towards its critical reception. Not content to just be a good storyteller, he has decided he must also be profound. The result of reading Ludmila's Broken English is an overwhelming sense of waste that such a promising talent has been deployed in the service of the author rather than the reader.