Saturday, August 18, 2007

Lunar Park

by Bret Easton Ellis

I surprised myself by giving Bret Easton Ellis another go. Earlier this year I read American Psycho, which was indeed a masterpiece but was also among the most disturbing, horrifying works of art I have ever been exposed to. Fortunately Lunar Park goes easy on the gore (although it's certainly not completely absent) and the existential malaise that made American Psycho so affecting (any idiot can write an incredibly disgusting torture scene, but it takes talent to make it haunt your thoughts for days afterwards with it's mood and it's comment on the human condition) pops up only as a sarcastic background prop, in a sly wink to the lugubrious nature of his earlier work.

There are a lot of sly winks in this book. Like Yann Martel's Self, it is presented as an autobiography, and while the broad strokes of Ellis' story are, at least at the beginning, true, I suspect that some scenes and scenarios may be embellished, such as those in which the fictional characters of the author's previous works come to life and torment him and his family, or when his mansion slowly transforms into his childhood home. It also reminded me a little of Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box, as they both deal with a man haunted by ghosts from the past both literal and allegorical, but while Hill's metaphors are about as subtle as Jack Bauer with a length of electrical cable and thirty seconds left to make the terrorist explain his relationship with his father, Ellis leaves a lot unstated and wields a sure mastery of irony and restraint.

The book begins with an account of Ellis' life and rise to fame. Again, while the bare facts are more or less correct, the man portrayed is not the real Ellis, but the warped, drug addicted caricature of an author concocted by the media in the wake of American Psycho's release. After all, in the mind of the mainstream only a monster could write such a book. Later on things tone down a little, and the book settles into its main narrative, on one level examining the fictional Ellis' relationship with his fictional new found family while the plot is propelled by the intrusions of the aforementioned supernatural terrors into their lives.

The beginning is easily the best part of the novel, as Ellis gleefully satirises both himself and the media but the book as a whole is still very good, if not quite living up to the virtuoso writing of American Psycho. The family dynamics could have easily became nauseatingly sentimental but he keeps it grounded in the sad realities of a recovering junkie who's not doing a terribly good job of recovering. The plot, while made in the mould of a generic horror such as the aforementioned Heart Shaped Box, comes to an unexpected conclusion and puts its own weird meta-fictional spin on the genre clich├ęs. Finally, after a solid four hundred pages of wry irony, we're hit out of nowhere by a surprisingly heartfelt and moving coda, evoking a beautiful sense of nostalgia, regret and final goodbyes. The reader is left in the polar opposite of the place they found themselves at the end of American Psycho.

No comments: