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An interesting experiment in contemporary horror
on 22 February 2011
'Lunar Park' is a strange book - perhaps the oddest that Bret Easton Ellis has published. In effect, it re-imagines the novel of contemporary nihilism that Ellis pioneered in 'Less Than Zero' and 'American Psycho' as a tale of paranoiac domestic horror in the manner of 'Poltergeist' - a family threatened in its own home by unnatural forces.
As one might imagine, Ellis is wholly aware of the precedents, and the novel is seamed with references to contemporary horror cinema that acknowledge the second-handedness of his theme, while undercutting criticism by introducing an element of knowing postmodernist play. This is greatly reinforced by Ellis's adoption of the classic doppelgänger motif; his protagonist is a writer haunted by his own fictional creations. But Ellis doesn't stop here: instead he redoubles the atmosphere of paranoid suspicion by making this character himself a doppelgänger, a 'Bret Easton Ellis' who shares some details of the author's biography but whose fictional life then departs in significant ways from the 'real-life' template - for whose ultimate veracity we have only Ellis to trust.
The result is a book that isn't wholly successful as literature but that holds an odd fascination. In this it resembles nothing so much as the tales of H.P. Lovecraft, which have something of the same dynamic of remorselessly accumulating dread, and the same implication of an existential horror that lies unvoiced beneath the surface effects.
Ellis has made something of a motif of the wholly unreliable narrator, and here he goes further than before, offering the reader a drug-addicted and alcoholic celebrity writer as the only real source of information within the narrative. The resulting hall-of-mirrors leads only inwards, until the reader is struggling with multiple levels of 'reality' in which real people, fictional characters and the spirits of the dead all seem to have similar ontological status. This makes 'Lunar Park' at times more difficult to follow than the earlier books, whose narratives for the most part lack these complications.
Readers who know and like Ellis will persist with this, although it does lend some credence to the notion that the writer is steadily cannibalising his own talent. For readers new to Ellis, I would strongly suggest starting with 'Less Than Zero' and 'American Psycho'. Not only does 'Lunar Park' refer frequently to these earlier books, but by reading them in sequence one may glimpse a seriousness in the later novel that might escape a completely uninformed reading.