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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 9 May 2017
Quite a sad book - got to the end and felt a bit like "was that it?" Some poignent lines in it though, it does make you think!
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on 17 May 2013
Book for 20 somethings that encourages them to give up the silly stuff and get a life - much to be admired here.
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"Here you go again. All messed up and no place to go."

That line sets the tone for "Bright Lights, Big City." Jay McInerney's bestselling debut stands above other urban-angst novels of the time, which tended to go with shock value. Instead, McInerney experimented with second-person narratives and a vision of a fragmented, coke-dusted New York.

"You" are a young man living in New York, and wife Amanda has recently left you for a French photographer she met on a modelling shoot. Understandably you are depressed and unhappy, and the loss of Amanda haunts your moods, especially when her lawyer urges you to sue her for "sexual abandonment," even though you don't want a divorce.

By day, you work in the fact-checking department of a prestigious magazine, where your malignant boss is getting tired of you. By night, you halfheartedly prowl clubs with your pal Tad, doing drugs and meeting women you care nothing for. Will you be able to move past your problems and become happy again?

Consider that summary a little slice of what "Bright Lights, Big City" sounds like -- the reader is the main character, which allows the reader to slip into another's skin for a brief time. Second-person narratives are often annoying, but McInerney's style is so starkly compelling that the little narrative trick pays off.

The New York of "Bright Lights, Big City" is basically a big, glitzy, hollow place, but still strangely appealing. And McInerney adds splinters of reality here and there, like the tattooed girl and Coma Baby, which add to the gritty you-are-there feel of the novel itself. His dark sense of humour comes out in "your" thoughts: "your" boss resembles "one of those ageless disciplinarians who believe that little boys are evil and little girls frivolous, that an idle mind is the devil's playground."

And while many trendy novels of the time relied on shock value and obnoxious characters, McInerney keeps it low-key. The young man is likable and sympathetic, despite his tendency towards self-pity. And the people around him -- the self-absorbed Amanda, likable Tad and nasty "Clingwrap" -- seem surprisingly realistic, as well as the minor people who flit in and out of our hero's vision.

"Bright Lights, Big City" has gained a reputation as a trendy urban novel of the 1980s. Too bad. Though the trendiness has worn off, McInerney's style and story are still worth reading.
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I bought this yesterday at a bookshop clearance having never before heard of the author. I was attracted by the subject matter (even though I was too old to be part of the 80s scene described) and the racy, witty style of writing which flows so effortlessly - a tribute to the writer's intellect. The other reviewers have done a much better job than I could but I just wanted to say the book was so good that I read it from start to finish in one sitting and have just ordered three more. I am still tittering over the tiny Bolivian soldiers who need Bolivian Marching Powder and there's quite a lot of laugh-out-loud humour in this book.
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on 17 January 2017
This and 'American Psycho' are supposed to be the classic 80s New York novels, but McInerney's book now seems dated and flawed. It's a great debut with some smart writing, and maybe it was fresh at the time, but now it reads very much like a first novel. The famous second-person narration is essentially a gimmick that becomes invisible after a few pages (as with most such narrative-perspective gimmicks) and which is not in itself stylistically interesting - just replace 'I' with 'you' throughout.

The structure is very loose – more a series of vignettes and backstory episodes. The novel is given 'coherence' only by the last chapter in which a revelation provides context for all that's gone before. This, too, looks like a gimmick – a justification for the previous fragmentation. There's been no prefiguring of the twist, and so it looks like deus ex machina. I almost didn't make it to the end because I couldn't see any story. It looked like a series of short stories or writing exercises.

It's an easy read with some nice wordplay, but I'm surprised at its legacy. It's not a book I'd bother reading again. Maybe if I'd read it 20 years ago when I was the same age as the protagonist . . . 'American Psycho' (though flawed in its own ways) still stands as a epic statement of 80s consumerist nihilism.
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"Here you go again. All messed up and no place to go."

That line sets the tone for "Bright Lights, Big City." Jay McInerney's bestselling debut stands above other urban-angst novels of the time, which tended to go with shock value. Instead, McInerney experimented with second-person narratives and a vision of a fragmented, coke-dusted New York.

"You" are a young man living in New York, and wife Amanda has recently left you for a French photographer she met on a modelling shoot. Understandably you are depressed and unhappy, and the loss of Amanda haunts your moods, especially when her lawyer urges you to sue her for "sexual abandonment," even though you don't want a divorce.

By day, you work in the fact-checking department of a prestigious magazine, where your malignant boss is getting tired of you. By night, you halfheartedly prowl clubs with your pal Tad, doing drugs and meeting women you care nothing for. Will you be able to move past your problems and become happy again?

Consider that summary a little slice of what "Bright Lights, Big City" sounds like -- the reader is the main character, which allows the reader to slip into another's skin for a brief time. Second-person narratives are often annoying, but McInerney's style is so starkly compelling that the little narrative trick pays off.

The New York of "Bright Lights, Big City" is basically a big, glitzy, hollow place, but still strangely appealing. And McInerney adds splinters of reality here and there, like the tattooed girl and Coma Baby, which add to the gritty you-are-there feel of the novel itself. His dark sense of humour comes out in "your" thoughts: "your" boss resembles "one of those ageless disciplinarians who believe that little boys are evil and little girls frivolous, that an idle mind is the devil's playground."

And while many trendy novels of the time relied on shock value and obnoxious characters, McInerney keeps it low-key. The young man is likable and sympathetic, despite his tendency towards self-pity. And the people around him -- the self-absorbed Amanda, likable Tad and nasty "Clingwrap" -- seem surprisingly realistic, as well as the minor people who flit in and out of our hero's vision.

"Bright Lights, Big City" has gained a reputation as a trendy urban novel of the 1980s. Too bad. Though the trendiness has worn off, McInerney's style and story are still worth reading.
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on 19 January 2010
It's difficult to write about what Bright Lights, Big City is REALLY about without giving away a major plot point, so I won't. But I'm incredulous that no one yet seems to have made the comparison with J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. The protagonist here is essentially an updated, older Holden Caulfield in an updated, older New York. In the same way that Allie's death was really the key to what was happening in Catcher, a past event that isn't mentioned until the last quarter of Bright Lights is even more so the key to understanding the book.

This novel has been woefully mischaracterised as an ode to the high-life 1980s, probably due to its ill-advised title. It's not American Psycho. It's not even about the rich; the protagonist works on a magazine, as a fact-checker. By no means does he live the high life. By no means is this a book "about being young, about doing drugs and about music", as the cover quote by Tony Parsons indicates with alarming inaccuracy. This is a book about a guy whose life has crumbled apart, and you navigate through a series of red herrings before at last you discover the real, and heartbreaking, reason.

It's Holden Caulfield for the 1980s.
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on 29 April 2015
I prefer Bret Easton Ellis's debut "Less Than Zero" to this. McInerney is always worth reading and there is some nice, colourful and edgy writing but I think he really found his voice and depth with the classic "Brightness Falls" which came out a few years after this. This is an enjoyable read but I also felt there was something missing, which maybe to do with the fact that it's only 174 pages long. I longed for a little more depth and development and I felt it was just getting interesting and then it just stopped short of giving us that bit more that it seemed to promise.
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on 5 September 1999
First book I have read by the author and I will be reading more by him after this excellent book about the eighties. I saw the film years ago and always thought the book would be better. It took me a long time to get round to it but I started reading the book last week and I enjoyed it from start to finish. I would recommend this book to anyone but particularly fans of Bret Easton Ellis as although their styles differ the subject matter is similar.
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on 6 March 2008
This book is the very best kind of literature, a small story that encompasses the whole modern human condition. Very powerful themes told in a painfully human and humorous way. This is the Catcher in the Rye for our time. In my top ten books of all time.
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