Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Year in Books 2011 - Imperial Bedrooms

There is an argument put forward by his detractors that Bret Easton Ellis basically has written one novel about the living dead of privileged LA youth and all subsequent works repeat the format but either with a different population eg The Informers or with a lot more violence eg American Psycho or both eg Glamorama.

I've read all of his books, finding the endless self absorption and emptiness of his characters strangely compelling helped by the fact that his stories are shot through with the darkest of humour. However the last one Lunar Park was all a bit too post modern for me and I gave up half way through. I found the whole thing so disappointing and frustrating I decided that was it, enough wasted empty wealthy lives for me.......however....

When Imperial Bedrooms was released, I couldn't help but be sucked back in. Billed as a sequel to Less Than Zero, the signs were good right down to the Elvis Costello inspired title.

The book picks up with Clay , now a successful screenwriter but as vapid as ever, Blair now married to Trent, Julian still on a self destructive path and Rip creepier and more sinister than 25 years ago. The book's opening has Clay reflecting on some guy who wrote a book about them all which brings everyone up to date and has the neat trick of characters in a book reflecting on their portrayal in both that book and the disappointing film that followed. This is as near as Ellis gets to Lunar Park territory (where an author called Brett undergoes a mid life breakdown and is "haunted" by characters from his past books).

We soon find that although things have moved on , life in their 40s is just as shallow and empty as in their 20s with the same sex, drugs and drink to hide the darkness (although the casting coach and film world has replaced the endless college parties.

What is added is the consequences of not letting go something you can't have (difficult if you are used to getting what ever you want), a skilfully building sense of paranoia and what starts as hints and whispered stories of extreme violence. This takes the writing into a LA noir / murder mystery territory and Ellis does this really well.

There is the unnerving feeling that none of the characters are what they seem and as layers are peeled back the heart of darkness is revealed their core. As things build to a head the exploitation increases and the violence becomes real .

Clay's voice remains as cold and distant as ever which is part of why Ellis still has the power to make me flinch slightly.

At less than 200 pages it is a quick read and the book is better for it. You don't have to have read Less Than Zero (I struggle to think why anyone new to Ellis would pick this up though) but it is a richer read if you have.

You can buy Imperial Bedrooms here

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