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Book review: <i>Lunar Park</i> by Bret Easton Ellis

If this was a coffee table book, it would be some really well-presented, kick-ass black and white photos that show American suburbia as Manhattan, hell, and a family album, but in which the models are perhaps a little bit too handsome, well-dressed and classically framed.


Another nice minimalist design—a silver-grey jacket, die cut with the title & author text, reveals a full size picture of Ellis’ old author photo, i.e. his young and sensitive black and white self, marbled slightly, as if seen through frosted glass.


In simple terms, i.e. without getting too interpretive too early, this is the story of the author’s attempts to settle down in the suburbs after marrying an old flame (who is also a famous actress), and to re-engage with his abandoned son. Can he quit the Manhattan high-life—the drugs, sex, chaos and insularity—or will he bring it into the life of his loved ones? Does he even love them? And what are those scratching noises against the windows at night, like something trying to claw its way into their beautiful house?

The good

Like all his books, this is controlled with the precision of a computer program. But unlike American Psycho or Glamorama, it doesn’t waste masses of RAM on excessive (if effective) scenes of sex and violence, bullshit about brand names, and production-line socialising scenes where famous people walk by in the background and everyone talks about how shallow they are. Right from the off, Ellis makes it clear that he’s trying to get back to reality. Of course, the Ellis way of doing this is to make up a bunch of bullshit, which, in fact, never happened to him, but the intent is as important as the results, as his novelised persona would no doubt argue.

It’s probably the funniest thing he’s written, for a start. Not that there was a lot to laugh at in, say American Psycho (at least not until you see it playing out at one remove in the film), and you wont be keeping the kids awake with this, but there is a definite sense that Ellis is having more fun than usual. Of course, most writers could probably have fun portraying themselves, and many have done just that (Douglas Coupland and Kurt Vonnegut, for instance, in books I’ve recently read), so the “post-modern” (starting to annoy myself with the want of a better term) value of it may not be huge, but he does have a lot to play with in terms of his own celebrity, and, of course, what we’re willing to imagine that that entails. The early chapters tell a sordid and amusingly OTT tale of an author completely out of his depth inside the adult world; a perpetually obnoxious, contrary, out-of-date teen who thinks expensive suits equate to maturity and drug habits are a personality substitute. Which is a great way to draw us in. And why is he like this, you ask?

Because of his (prepare to be shocked) Father. Which brings us to the main theme of the book, a theme far more conventionally drawn than those of his previous books, but which is no less—indeed I would argue much more—powerful for that. The demons and phantasms Ellis materialises to torment himself all seem to be aspects of this relationship (I didn’t understand every facet, although it’s not left as ambiguous as I’m probably making it sound. There’s plenty of fear and violence (emotional and physical), although nothing on the scale of his previous books, but there is real tension and emotive drive here, much more so than in anything else of his that I’ve read. Which is good.

The bad

It centres on the mental life of a writer. I’m not putting my hand up but I could identify with some aspects of this way of thinking, but I’m guessing this would be of much less interest to somebody—say, a woman with no literary pretensions and an acceptable relationship with her parents—you lacked empathy with the themes that really drive this (particularly given that the Jayne Dennis character—Ellis’ fictional wife—is easily the weakest in the novel).

What Ellis has cleverly achieved, to what degree deliberately I can’t quite tell, is the trick of turning his weaknesses as a writer into strengths—the insularity, the immaturity, the bourgeois grasping at sophistication, his lack of interest and/or understanding toward the opposite sex (or anybody else at all, for that matter), even the ever-present (for lack of a better word) whiteness all serve to paint the picture Ellis wants to show us, i.e. that of an unravelling hack trying to cope with the reality of marriage and some Daddy issues. This will not, however, if these elements annoy you, stop these elements from annoying you.

The pacing, though frenetic compared to Glamorama, is still lacking. The middle section, especially, during which Ellis slobs around, witnesses the occasional unimaginative paranormal effect and shits his family, could have used tighter editing.

I could argue all day as to how more or less effectively Ellis could have weighed the scales when achieving this one flavour of verisimilitude at one side and the physical manifestations of his inner torments on the other, but the fact is that they do balance. I could also argue that he could have ended the book either more concisely, sharpening the few blurred edges remaining, or been far more artily unfocused throughout, as most literature writers would have. However, to compare to in his other books one last time, it’s all unfolding just the way he wants it, and there’s something to be said for this approach—it’s rare, for a start, and you know that you’re seeing exactly what the author wants you to, even if you miss or overstate the significance.

Whatever else, I’d call this a bold step for Ellis, and if it really is his last novel then it’s a good one to go out on—a requiem for his bond with his father, a gift to his unborn son, a dedication to his dead lover and more of himself for the public than he’s ever been willing to give. Yes, even if most of it is lies.

What I learnt

A bunch of facts about Bret Easton Ellis which turned out to be bullshit, and a few home truths which certainly didn’t.

In short

Title: Luna Park
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 0375727272
Year published: 2006
Pages: 416
Genre(s): Contemporary literature, Transgressional fiction

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.