Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Brett Easton Ellis: Imperial Bedrooms

Imperial Bedrooms is a sequel to Brett Easton Ellis' first published novel Less Than Zero (1985). Like Salinger's Catcher in the Rye thirty four years previously, LTZ seemed to define the zeitgeist of a generation, and propelled the 21 year old Ellis to literary superstardom, an exaltation he has struggled with, and indeed creatively mined, ever since.

Many critics seem to think Ellis essentially is this self-referential teller of the one evolving story - the story of his rich Los Angeles friends and their aimless, destructive rituals, and his place as an author at once participating and observing. But I don't think this really defines Ellis at all.

To me he wrote one of the greatest English novels of the post-war age, a true classic - American Psycho. When this was first published in 1991 most countries, including Australia, banned it outright, or only allowed it to go on sale if shrink-wrapped!! I was living in Queensland at the time and simply couldn't get it. A friend sent me a copy from the US (this was pre-Amazon days).

American Psycho was a savage, devastating critique of late 20th century decadence. A searing, powerful, relentless indictment of meaningless, indulgent, voyeuristic lives. Many readers were warned off it because of the violence. Too bad really. They missed the entire point. Your nose had to be rubbed in it - that was the point.

So where does the new novel Imperial Bedrooms fit within the Ellis oeuvre?

It's a disappointment. Nowhere near the power or resonance of American Psycho, and missing the freshness and surprise (perhaps this is to be expected) of Less Than Zero. The same Ellis obsessions are there, however. His young friends from 25 years ago are now power-players in Hollywood, making B-grade movies, attending endless parties, awards nights, launches, etc, but still as vacuous, bored and desperate as ever. They have become the Champagne dregs, with all the appurtenances of material success - BMWs, BlackBerries, fake tans, fake faces - but none of the substantiality of character. There are no wives or kids, just endless, meaningless sex with young, grasping, aspiring actors. The only coinage the women have is their c..t. The main character, Clay, is a sick, perverted, sexual predator. Truly an ugly human being.. 

Ellis is a chronicler of surface glitter. But there is always menace, a sense of being caught up in something larger, an overriding evil. Violence is always happening or threatening, and is as meaningless as the glitter and baubles.

Unlike in Less Than Zero there is an unfolding dramatic narrative in Imperial Bedrooms, but it is less than believable and rather contrived. I thought at one stage I was reading a script for Days of Our Lives! There was dialogue but no communication. But then again, this is quintessentially Ellis.

If you like Ellis you'll like this book. I certainly liked it, although it's far from his best.

1 comment:

  1. i agree with this 100%. I'm a big fan, but it was far from his peak!! I couldnt become involved with the story, but maybe that had a lot to do with its length. Nice for an entree, but I'm left wanting my main!! thanx for the review :-)