Grunge Literature

Grunge Literature

The River Ophelia - Justine Ettler
Marilyn\'s Almost Terminal New York Adventure - Justine Ettler
Less Than Zero - Brett Easton Ellis
American Psycho - Brett Easton Ellis

What quality in a novel is it which prompts it to be labelled as "grunge literature"? And why do so many authors of books which fall into this genre object so strenuously to the label?

Grunge is the literature and fiction of young people living in inner cities around the world, it is not a new genre as publishers would have us believe, but traces its roots back through the history of the novel. There is one common thread which runs throughout all grunge novels, and that is the parody of modern western society and the values which it endorses.

Justine Ettler, \'Sydney\'s Empress of Grunge\', is the author of Marilyn\'s Almost Terminal New York Adventure and The River Ophelia, which gave her the \'empress\' title. Ettler is part of the Australian \'brat pack\' of Dirty Realists, the grunge writers who reproduce the urban underside of life with every thrust of a fuck, every snort of a drug and every pocket of grime that coats our cities. They\'re young, articulate, and write novels that bluntly reflect the nihilism of the generation X-ers. They follow in the footsteps of the US grunge writers, inspired first by Bret Easton Ellis Less Than Zero, American Psycho.

The River Ophelia was Ettler\'s first published novel but was written after Marilyn\'s Almost Terminal New York Adventure which has just been released. The River Ophelia was a \'heavy duty\' novel. Confronting, repetitive and relentless in its portrayal of an obsessive, self-abusive woman called \'Justine\' and her quest for love. It has been hounded as anti-feminist because it portrays women as weak, pathetic victims of themselves as much as of the patriarchy yet it writes under the guise of sexual reclamation, Justine masturbates at least once a chapter and the novel drips with an amazing variety of bodily fluids.

This could be classified as a political novel because of the way it involves the readers in the events, it forces the reader to form opinions about what is happening because of the way in which it is written. Ettler writes of self mutilation, emotional despair and physical and phsychological violence with the dispassionate discourse of the media. The River Ophelia is a reclamation, through a feminist parody, of the media\'s representation of women, pornography and of the male dominated, often misogynist, grunge novel. Her work is darkly comical, as it refutes the patriarchal representation of female sexuality.

"A lot of the time when I was writing it, especially the grittiest bits, I was laughing at how twisted the events were; how excessive, how far I\'d gone. A lot of the time I was crying as well."
Justine Ettler

But how do you make the parody clear enough if it\'s so important not to have the piece taken as literal representation? Towards the middle of the book it is more overtly comic. People critical of it are only looking at what is purely represented and the ideology/politic of that. They\'re not looking at the implication of what the writer is doing with Justine, which is quite different to what she is depicting.

Ettler\'s only strong, together character in The River Ophelia, Juliette the psychiatrist, turns out to be a psychotic killer. Is there no hope for Ettler\'s women? This character, along with Justine, was drawn from the Marquis de Sade\'s The Virtuous Sister. What Sade was saying is give someone a toss-up between good and evil, the natural instinct is to evil. The author seemed to want to play around with these polarities. Juliette schemes, knows how to work the system, and gains enormous power from this. She\'s transformed into a media star, Dr Blood. She\'s still around, this person that understands and benefits from manipulation.

After the hard grind and political contention of The River Ophelia, Ettler\'s new novel Marilyn\'s Almost Terminal New York Adventure reads sweetly and cleanly. Ophelia was full of sex, self-abuse and indecision; Marilyn\'s only sexual reference is a teenage memory. There are no genitalia in sight and Marilyn has at least a snippet of self-integrity. It\'s a neatly woven stream-of-consciousness daydream. Ettler speaks of it as a more optimistic book. Marilyn\'s not obsessed entirely