ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Dans l’univers d’Ellis Island
by By Olivier Sécardin
Translated Thursday 9 February 2006, by
In the world of Ellis Island.
BOOKS: When success is the worst thing that can happen: the descent into Hell of a successful writer. “Luna Park”: a morality tale in the form of an autobiography. An interview with the author, who also penned "American Psycho".
Bret Easton Ellis: "Lunar Park", Translated by Pierre Guglielmina, Robert Laffont editions, 337 pages, 20 euros.
Having spent two decades on the literary heights, by turns fawned upon, hated, decried, a story teller who has made a good living from his pen and whose name - Bret Easton Ellis - will ring a vague bell for some, sets out to tell of the repercussions for him of literary glory. Drugs, money, sex... the facile joys of marital union will not be enough to satisfy our narrator who craves respectability. Bret becomes middle class, gets married and sets up home with the mother of his son, Jayne Dennis, (a pseudo Hollywood actress whose only promotion is on the internet website www.jayne-dennis.com) at the very Shakespearian 307 Elsinore Lane, 900 immaculate square metres of residential suburban dwelling. From now on Bret (Simpson) tastes the mind-numbing boringness of Springfield.
Then suddenly everything slips out of control. The lights come on all by themselves, the furniture moves all by itself, alarming ash-coloured footprints haunt the living room and the children’s security blanket is in truth a murderous soft toy. A bad dose of tranquilizers or a bringing to life of ghosts from the past? For Bret, the house at Elsinore Lane becomes that of his childhood: a sort of degenerate Fantasia, indifferent thriller, filled with childhood heroes, Lunar Park is Disneyland, the fairy tale setting and its mirror image, a crazy holiday camp.
HUMA: “Lunar Park” revisits several classic literary greats (Sophocles, Poe, Golding, Kerouac) and genre literature (Stephen King) but also your own work (“American Psycho”, “The Rules of Attraction”...) which you cite and distort. What function do these references serve?
BRET EASTON ELLIS: I have arrived at a point in my life when I might very well stop writing. I don’t know if I could stop writing completely, but I might very well stop writing in the same way. There are, therefore, several ways of reading these quotations you refer to. First of all, there’s the question of a story within a story. A narrator who is the hero, who is a writer and who insidiously has the same name as me, writes about the life of Bret Easton Ellis. It so happens that this character who is me and who isn’t me has written the books I’ve written. Now, he has reached a point in his life when it isn’t easy for him to have written them. A little bit like me. Another way of looking at things would be to consider the novel from a distance, without being taken in by its tricks. In the first few pages, I portray the beginning of a novel by showing the beginnings of other novels. That is to say that it’s a way of transposing familiarity into fiction. It’s also the inventory taken before bankruptcy is declared.
HUMA: This legacy which mimics its own object of reference, is it irony or something less thoughtful?
BRET EASTON ELLIS: It’s a morality tale. Writing about Bret Easton Ellis has always been distressing. You know something about that. I was thinking about myself whilst writing this novel but I wrote it in defiance of myself. Otherwise what would be the point of writing? My fiction is a kind of anti-destiny.
HUMA: Because deep down everyone knows that this era is hateful...
BRET EASTON ELLIS: Yes, there comes a time when even the most obstinate fool is nauseated by it.
HUMA: Does Bret Easton Ellis nauseate you?
BRET EASTON ELLIS: No, I feel freer than at the time of “American Psycho”. From now on I will look at my literary career and my life with a certain detachment. Ten years ago the only face-to-face (interview) that I could have given you would have been with a “botoxed” face, an anaesthetized expression. I’m no longer in that frame of mind.
HUMA: That face frozen by the botulin toxin, is it like a mask?
BRET EASTON ELLIS: It’s something like that. It’s a fake face in an unreal world. He’s not sincere, he lies to himself but in a certain fashion, he is genuine in comparison with the world. He is objective. I’m a realist as a novelist. I’m concerned with morals. It’s just that I describe the insincere morals of a world, which is itself insincere. Does that make me immoral? As for knowing who I am, I don’t know that myself. For me to be able to know would require exorcism. I am a survivor in an anonymous world.
HUMA: But in the image of the mask, isn’t there something more obviously false, a life not to be revealed but hidden...
BRET EASTON ELLIS: I’m going to give you the key to an enigma, which has not yet been formulated: are the dead just masks behind which we hide?
HUMA: Are you playing at being the Sphinx or Oedipus?
BRET EASTON ELLIS: I haven’t asked myself that question? (Laughter.)
HUMA: Another character in “Lunar Park” is the ghost, in particular the ghost of the father...
BRET EASTON ELLIS: You can read “Lunar Park” as an allegory of obsessive fear, that is to say of how impossible it is truly to bury the dead. I wrote this book with the ghost of my father. His solitude is my own. When my narrator is haunted by the serial killer from “American Psycho” (1991), it’s still Robert Ellis hiding behind Patrick Bateman. If returning to the one could not be done without the other, it’s because Bret Easton Ellis never existed for his father. He is the ghost. There is sometimes more courage in revisiting one’s own obsessive fears and in trying to explain them to oneself than in passing blindly on to something else. After that, the specific problem of this literary obsession, is not to leave proof. “Luna Park” could not be a detective novel.
HUMA: There is, nevertheless, a clearly designated guilty party, the father, whose metaphor is woven into the issue of ancestry...
BRET EASTON ELLIS: You’re right. The problem is knowing what happens when you refuse to confront the past: the past visits you and puts you to the challenge. There is always something to keep us unhinged and whatever the result of the contest, you never get to the end of anything. I am trying to show that without a need for love, there are no ghosts.
HUMA: So why do none of your characters know how to say I love you?
BRET EASTON ELLIS: Perhaps because they are haunted by the ghost of a father from whom they received no love.
HUMA In comparison with your previous novels, there is a broader range of emotions in “Lunar Park”. Less lethargy and more fear, rather than evil...
BRET EASTON ELLIS: It has taken me ten years to write in a more sensitive way. With “Lunar Park”, I have tried to give form to emotions, solitude, responsibility, fear. I don’t play with these emotions. I don’t compromise them. They are to be taken just as they are, ridiculous and serious at one and the same time. In this novel, the autobiographical part is the sentiment that binds me to the writing. You should always ask a writer what he feels rather than seek to know who he is.
Interview conducted and translated by Olivier Sécardin.