The Shards and jetlag

I cannot stop thinking about Brett Easton Ellis’s new novel. I read it on a business class flight to Washington, and finished it up at 8pm, which felt like the middle of the night.

I got up at 5 the next day, did my calls and went to the weird 90s gym, which came complete with the standard random logo and movie font.

I can’t even piece together the story, which is the usual effect of his stories. He creates a feeling of a time and a place, and inserts cipher-like characters into them. It is written like a hideous, twisted fever dream, in which nothing is quite real or true, but it has also half-happened, the ugliness lingering in your thoughts as you go through the day.

It plays with the way we all deceive ourselves about our motives; we all believe ourselves to be purer than the next person, and the reader is suckered into this thinking.

At the time, I was massively stressed about a mistake I had made at work, which was massively trivial, but which took on outsized proportions in my mind for months. I had created a whole parallel reality of consequences that would never happen, and the resulting negativity only drained my motivation to move forward positively and trust other people’s intentions.

The saddest thing about the book is its central theme of shame. It succeeds where no be else has in conveying the casual discrimination that was so normal to gay people in the 1980s that it the main character does not even want to acknowledge it. I can’t really spoil the plot, but it all hinges on how we define and characterise victims and perpetrators, the usual imbalances of power and the way we define the “other” we decide to fear.

I wish I could know them, all my favourite writers, and invite them to dinner. Brett, Donna Tartt, John le Carré, Maggie O’Farrell, Tolstói, Schiller, Thomas Mann, Kafka. I studied French literature, and yet I have no further interest in any French author. Which of them has any interesting hinterland that is not already spelt out in claustrophobic detail on the page?

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