New Year’s Eve. Drunken haze. Random conversations. Bret Easton Ellis’ name is being thrown about. “How fucked up are his characters?” “Awesomely fucked up”. The conversation runs its natural course and steers towards Chuck Palahniuk. Not long after, Irvine Welsh pops up as a topic of discussion. Boom. There you have it. The Unholy Trinity of Ellis, Palahniuk & Welsh; also known as the Three Kings of nihilism and apathy.
Transgressive Fiction, that’s the genre under which these respected authors/demented souls are clubbed under. Of course, they all have different styles of writing and they deal with different classes of society – but their books are shockingly amoral and their characters, at best, aberrant.
Twists and shocks aside, the core of the stories from these authors is all about apathy, loneliness, and disconnect. Human beings are known to do the most repugnant things in order to feel. Anything. So, the characters engage in sexual depravity, drug addiction, physical violence, and when pushed to the extreme, suicide and murder; in order to feel of course.
Bret Easton Ellis His books centers around the rich and the privileged. There is no sense of right or wrong in this world. They exist in their own little bubbles, living their excessive, selfish lives through their medicated haze. Ellis’ debut novel, Less Than Zero, hits the nail squarely on the desensitized lives we are capable of living. A writing device which Ellis frequently uses, and which I think brings out the best of the worst in his characters, is the unreliable narrator. Did Paul Denton truly sleep with Sean Bateman in The Rules of Attraction? In American Psycho did Patrick Bateman butcher all those people? We won’t know. All the narrators/characters in his books only look out for themselves and/or are engrossed with themselves. It’s all superfluous and at the same time, strangely deep.
Chuck Palahniuk It is odd to see Fight Club (the movie) to be called an “action movie”. Yes, Brad Pitt is ripped and yes, the fight scenes are “cool”, but somewhere the plot was lost by majority of those who were watching the movie. To them, I say, read the book. The Narrator is clearly another numb soul, turning to violence to bring him to life. Palahniuk’s writing tends to lean heavily on the decay of the human being; a perfect example for that would be his gut wrenching short story – Guts –which deals with the extreme (I mean EXTREME) lengths people can go to just for getting off. His characters reside somewhere between reality and surrealism, and though the extent of their actions are unimaginable, the disconnect they feel is universal.
Irvine Welsh I will not lie. It took me several attempts to get hooked on to Welsh. But, once you get past the language barrier, you are welcomed to a morally bankrupt world. The Scottish working class is what Welsh likes to focus on, and we see indifference and apathy at play here too. The ever so charming Sick Boy from Trainspotting and Porno is an empty, cold and heartless man, always looking out for number one. Begbie is a maniac of a sociopath, ready to destroy anything in his path. Even Renton is not excused from the amorality of Trainspotting; he is a coward. Three different characters practicing three different kinds of indifference. Welsh’s collection of short stories, Reheated Cabbage, has many more examples of callousness and apathy of human beings.
So how come I relate to these misanthropes?
I am not a drug addict. I am not an alcoholic. I am not a sociopath. I am not any of these cuckoo characters.
What I am, though, is apathetic. We are a generation of people going through the motions, every single day; indifference reigns supreme. Which is probably why Catcher in the Rye was my go to book as a teenager.
The irony of it all lies in the fact that I empathize with these apathetic (possibly criminal) characters; they mirror my isolation and lack of interest in what is truly going on in the world. This oddly gives me hope. Any kind of empathy is a sign that we are not completely numb. We can feel. We can feel for others, not just ourselves, even though the others in question are fictional characters caught in the limbo of nihilism. So, what the Unholy Trinity has taught me is that – Life can get much worse, get your head out of your ass. You are not alone.
Psst, psst: For old school books in this genre, read The Dice Man by Luke Reinhart & A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Yea, the movie is awesome, but the book is the real deal).
And please feel free to suggest awesomely fucked up books to me as well, okay?