Sunday, December 25, 2005

Holiday reads part 2:
Brett Easton Ellis, “Lunar Park”

Headline: Beth said it best


I was keen to check out Lunar Park after it made Beth’s top 5 for 2005 and was drawing praise from other friends as well.

I devoured it over two days, and Beth’s assessment of it being by turns “hilarious, clever, spooky, then sad” is spot on.

It’s actually the first Ellis I’ve read, and the (supposedly) autobiographical introduction is an enormously witty “imitation of himself”, a stylised and at least partially true account of his rise to prominence and the “American Psycho” controversy. I’ve never had the stomach to read “American Psycho”, but trust the reviews that the film captured much of the humour and ambiguity while omitting the baroque violence.

If “American Psycho” was fundamentally a parody of the emptiness of money-obsessed big city America, then “Lunar Park” is an excoriation of the emptiness of suburbia - and a pretty compelling post-modern horror novel. The “emptiness of suburbia”, you say, isn’t that a bit trite; a little twee and “Desperate Housewives“?

It’d be a fair criticism, if this weren’t a novel first and foremost about materialistic, status-obsessed parenting and how a generation of parents driven by personal freedom are as capable of screwing up their kids as their hidebound 1950s parents. The depiction of lethargic children on a cocktail of behavioural drugs at a “rehearsal party” supervised by a paediatrician is as funny as it is awful.

(The parent/teacher night gag about appropriate ways to draw a “normal” platypus is also a small gem.)

That and it’s a novel about being haunted by the memory of your father and a seriously nasty novel you once wrote, as well as … well, the forces of supernatural evil (maybe).

It is also wildly clever. The author-turning-himself-into-character shtick has seldom been done so well, deftly manipulating the conventions of both “I-never-knew-my-father” autobiographical fiction and the straightforward small-town horror genre. (His heavily ironic disclaimer about having done no research into the “true” events of the novel is also an overdue call for a return to imaginative, as opposed to footnote-driven, fiction.)

Despite the trappings of autobiography, one is left with the distinct impression you know little more about Ellis, other than the fact he’s a damn clever writer.

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