"There was something beneath the surface of things" (author's italics - p.172, Lunar Park, Picador, London, 2005)
Of the writers of my generation - those born in the situationist sixties - the three I treasure most are Bret Easton Ellis, Douglas Coupland and, more recently, Virginie Despentes.
Of all three I appreciate the way they play with language, with genre and form, with narrative. Of all three I savour the vision and the views, the description of social milieux and contemporary times. Of the three, two are North American and one is European, two are men and one is a woman.
(is that supposed to mean anything at all?)
I first read Bret Easton Ellis a year or two after he had published "Less than zero". I read the novel on a sofa in Huddersfield, North England. I was around twenty. The sentences were short and crisp and descriptive and disruptive and nihilistic. It read fast.
"The rules of attraction" followed in a more minimal-baroque fashion, with the sex'n'drugs lifestyle of lost weekend undergraduates reflected in the experimental structure of this second novel. Clay, the main protagonist of "Less than zero", makes a cameo appearance, marking what would become a recurring motifs in Ellis' writing: the interlacing of characters from one book to another in a kind of ongoing meta-narrative and the false reflection of biographical fact in the mirror of fiction. So much shimmer across so thin a surface.
His collection of short stories "The informers" I no longer recall.
But with "American Psycho" Ellis became a frigid Fitzgerald for the 80s. Forget films like "Wall Street", forget books like "Bonfire of the Vanities", "American Psycho" dissected with sadeian precision the zeitgeist of a particular place in historical time.
Endless descriptions of designer clothes and fashionable restaurants and mainstream pop groups, cut with increasingly splatter chapters of ultra-violence, created hype and anger around this book. A metaphorical platinum credit card chopped away at decades of literary developments, as the first-person narrative voice was ascribed to the author. The black humour and - dare I say - the morality of the novel were lost in a delusion of self-righteous indignation.
A word-blackout, then "Glamorama" came strutting down the catwalk of culture, its hip heels stabbing at clarity and sense. Everything in a void flux. Hazy. Precisely prescient. The male models as disposable terrorists, the ever-present TV crews.
Then silence again till last year, when Lunar Park came out, and in it the main character is a writer called Bret Easton Ellis who has written the books described above, which he details with the cosy attention of the lit. critic. Until the story turns into horror and pulp. Such a literate book. Filled with theory playing savage tricks on identity and invention.
Ellis has a rare gift, found also in writers such as Paul Auster and Milan Kundera (and I'm thinking of their early work) of being able to reveal the conceptual framework, the form games, the structural stratagems of a story and yet maintain the power of narrative intact.
This time, time has passed and the setting is suburban and drugs and fame and emptiness and medication fill the picture, with everything empty and horrifying and bright, until the very end scatters across a sea of family history some incredibly dense writing that takes the shape of a single sentence unwinding across a page and a half in which generations forget and remember and (re)discover.
It is late at night as I finish "Lunar Park". Moon shines through the roof window above the bed. A few tears run down my cheek.
April 04, 2006 | 11:48 PM | Permalink