Sunday, 29 January 2017

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

My adventure into the lives of the Literary Brat Pack continues! Jay McInerney is a novelist linked with Bret Easton Ellis, not just in how they write about similar things, but also in the fact that they hung out a lot together. In fact, McInerney appears as a character in one of Ellis' later novels Lunar Park. The era and subjects that they write about are really interesting to me, and I'm not really sure why. They write about the 80s, and more specifically about being young and lost in the 80s.

My friend Amy recommended me this book and I'm so glad she did. I feel like I would've stumbled across it sooner or later, but it's appeared in my life at the right time. Many reviews I read of this compared it to Less Than Zero, which is a natural comparison - both novels were the first to be published by their authors, both deal with youth, drugs and alcohol, and both have an experimental and transgressive style of writing. This reviewer also went on to say that in a competition between the two, Bright Lights might just clinch it, and I have to say I kind of agree.


The first thing that struck me about this novel was the narration - it is told from a second-person perspective, which I've read before, but never to this degree. As you read, you become the young man who is wandering the streets of New York, going to clubs, drinking an obscene amount, snorting coke off a mirror. There is no sense of distancing yourself from what happens, because this is exactly what the narrator cannot do. The feeling was abnormal to me at first, but once the first 'story' was over, I completely understood.

There was also something tragic about this novel, as there always is with novels about this era. The characters perform the same actions over and over again, swallowed up in a haze of hedoism. The main character tries his best to be a writer, to be like one of the greats that he reads and hears about, but doesn't understand this is not reality. Drugs and alcohol give him an illusion that everything is fine, whilst simultaneously making him feel like he is screwing up absolutely everything in his life. It seems to be the theme of the century, 

I loved reading about the characters because of how disjointed they were. The main character works in the fact department of a magazine, despite wanting to work in fiction. But he gets through it by bringing coke to work, by turning up still drunk and by never getting his work done on time. His coworkers are no better, using drugs and alcohol similarly to make things seem bearable. It is ironic that the intoxicants in the end get him fired from the one thing he was using them to escape. I especially liked the part where his brother comes and visits him. Though for a moment it seems like fresh air has been let into his apartment, his brother is soon caught up in the same stream. New York City is a place which harbours this lifestyle for him, and it acts like a black hole - once you are in that space, you can't help but return to it's lifestyle.

The whole novel just makes me want to read more from McInerney. At the moment I'm reading The Rules of Attraction by Ellis and it's wonderful. The whole group of writers definitely display New York City as a place with a completely distinct life of it's own. There's a sense that if you haven't been here, then you won't get it. That's why the second-person narration works so well, because you feel half sympathetic and half disgusted by what you are reading about.

My local Waterstones is having a 20% off sale soon, and I'm planning on picking up Lunar Park and T2 Trainspotting. I saw the new film a few days ago and it was brilliant - there's so much I can say about it and it's going to be the subject of my next post. For some reason, I'm really interested in drug culture. It's all symbolic, I promise.

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