The Modern Gothic

This week I finished reading A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick and The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis. Both are disturbing and heavily influenced by drugs-culture. A Scanner Darkly even has a dedication in the end to friends of the author who died or were damaged by drugs. He likens the users to children playing in the street, blind to the consequences and danger of what they are doing. But he does also highlight the fact that drug use is a choice, which I think is a lot more responsible than simply portraying the users as innocent victims. The source of the drugs, and who is responsible for getting them into America and into people’s lifestyles is a big theme in the book. There is a hint of a conspiracy theory; is someone deliberately poisoning America?

A Scanner Darkly is not the easiest book to read, for me the first half felt like the incoherent ramblings of a group of narcotics addicts (which of course it is), but it is definitely worth persevering with, as the plot opens up towards the end, and becomes more complex, while Bob Arctor, the protagonist, loses touch with reality.

I like Philip K Dick’s prose very much, as it is intelligent yet informal. So it feels very much as if you are inside the heads of the characters. He is sometimes criticised for his rather random use of plot, and unclear or unresolved story-lines, but I rather like this about his work, as it reflects the confusion of ‘real life’ and fits in well with the surreal and psychedelic worlds he creates.

A Scanner Darkly is set in near future LA, as is Bret Easton Ellis’ The Informers. Ellis creates a glamours LA, full of restaurants, malls, movie producers and rockstars, then reveals the darkness beneath the surface. He introduces a range of characters, different ages, jobs, philosophies, family backgrounds, but then shows in graphic detail their shared vice of drug addiction. He does also describe the misuse of legal drugs such as alcohol and painkillers, and includes professional people and older people in his line-up of users, which I think is a very honest thing to do (it would be very easy just to demonise a group of grungy teenagers). It left me wondering why people living in such a beautiful and privileged landscape would want to numb themselves with narcotics. It makes the very important point that wealth and consumption will not make us happy, there is often a deeper emptiness inside. It is a very disturbing book, not one I would lend to other people, but it was worth reading as it made me think about this nihilistic side of human nature.

There is a very disturbing twist near the end, which is definitely not for the squeamish.


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