Category Archives: Brett Easton Ellis

Imperial Bedrooms, by Brett Easton Ellis

3 stars3/5

Imperial Bedrooms is the latest novel by Brett Easton Ellis, which sees the return of Clay – the protagonist from Less Than Zero (you can read my review here).

Imperial Bedrooms, by Brett Easton Ellis

Picador, 2010 edition (hardback), 178 pages - review copy.

All grown up, Clay is now a middle-aged film-writer and has come back to Los Angeles (from New York) to work on an 80’s themed movie. While auditioning actresses for the movie he meets Rain Turner whose talent is unfortunately limited to her good looks, but is desperate to get a part in the film. Clay and Rain start a mutually exploitative relationship which becomes increasingly sordid as the book continues. While Clay is obviously infatuated with Rain, he senses the power that he has over her and enjoys dangling the carrot of fame in front of her while making little if any effort to actually help her. As the book develops it becomes apparent that something strange is happening. A film producer named Kelly Montrose dies in bizarre circumstances and Clay receives text messages from someone who says they are watching him.

Imperial Bedrooms has similar themes and many of the same characters as Less Than Zero but the protagonist’s voice is very different. Clay is much more conversational and the narrative tone is more present in contrast with the detatched-sounding teenager of 25 years ago. At the start of the book, he actually refers to a film adaptation of Less Than Zero and curiously refers to a ‘writer’ who;

“…failed to accurately describe how I felt that night – the desire, the shock…”

I can’t quite work out if Ellis is suggesting the idea that the real voice of Clay is the one in Imperial Bedrooms and that the book of Less Than Zero is a fiction, or if he is only referring to the film being  a mis-representation. Is Ellis implying that the detatched voice of Clay in Less Than Zero is a red-herring?  This makes sense to me when I think about the way that the Clay of Imperial Bedrooms is quite an unlikeable character, whereas the teenager I read about in the first book could almost be perceived as a naive onlooker to events – passively moving through the dramas around him as opposed to manipulating.

The change in tone, is a good move in my opinion, as it feels as if you are hearing a new voice. Some of the other devices that Ellis uses like referenceing songs, and gadgets such as iPhones, which worked in Less Than Zero for me felt a bit samey and awkward in Imperial Bedrooms, although for other readers it may well feel comfortably familar. The theme of excess and corruption is stronger than ever in Imperial Bedrooms but I think it has less impact somehow because these days we are more aware of the dark side of celebrity and oddly the modern setting doesn’t have the same kind of ‘cool’ feel as 80’s L.A.

I did like the element of mystery around the murder of Kelly Montrose, but don’t expect a thriller. Imperial Bedrooms is more of a high-school reunion-style look at what happened to those messed up kids from Less Than Zeroto find out how nasty they became as adults.

I’m glad that I read Less Than Zero first, because I think the context adds an extra layer of meaning that makes reading Imperial Bedrooms more interesting. It is kind of fascinating to go back and see what happened to Clay and co. but apart from a kind of cultish curiosity about the characters, I didn’t feel that Imperial Bedrooms had anything really new to say. Perhaps that was the point Ellis was making – that people don’t really change?

Less Than Zero, by Brett Easton Ellis

3.5 stars3.5/5

Less Than Zero is Brett Easton Ellis’s first published book.

Less Than Zero, by Brett Easton Ellis

Picador, 2010 edition (hardback), 208 pages - review copy.

Thanks to the lovely people at Picador I got my hands on the rather beautifully presented re-published hardback copy and having been quite fascinated by American Psycho decided to read the book that started Ellis’s career.

Written in the stream of consciousness narrative, Less Than Zero follows protagonist Clay who goes back to visit Los Angeles on his winter break where he spends time seeing old friends and sees his ex-girlfriend Blair. Most of the time he is high on cocaine or drunk or both. His family life is depressing (although flashbacks hint at happier times), his friends at best shallow, at worst sociopathic and and he seems to meander through bizarre often disturbing situations becoming more and more detached as the book goes on.

Parts of Less Than Zero make uncomfortable reading, as we watch people try to bring excitement to what feel like hollow lives by pushing their limits psychologically and sexually. Rather than protecting them, these teenager’s privileged lives expose them to experiences very bad things. Ellis highlights the greed and excess of the 80’s – the book is peppered with references to consumer brands – and in a similar way to American Psycho hints at the dark consequences of a boredom driven by teenagers having too much ‘stuff’ and too few morals.

Ellis’ style really works for me. The cold, disconnected voice of the narrator only makes what he observes seem more disturbing. I like his references to music of the era which really create a sense of time and place (don’t you always vividly remember what was happening at the time you listened to a particular song?). The title of the book is actually a reference to a song of the same name by Elvis Costello which a bit of Googling reveals that refers to nazism and teenage sex as well as people prioritising material goods over anything else:

“He said, he heard about a couple living in the USA,

He said, they traded their baby in for a Chevrolet”

The lyrics hint at society gone mad and so it’s not hard to see why Ellis was inspired to choose it as the title for this book.

I also like the way that Ellis creates verbal clues out of the signs that Clay sees. He notices particular words on signs and number plates such as ‘Disappear here’ and ‘DECLINE’ which have a sort of subconscious significance to Clay’s life.

Less Than Zero is an interesting read and feels very modern, despite having been written over 25 years ago. It made me think that the show Gossip Girl is similar – like an updated, frothy (and more suitable for TV) comment on the lives of bored, rich teenagers. Like American Psycho, it’s not exactly an ‘enjoyable’ read but it wierdly compelling. I wouldn’t rate it as highly as American Psycho (for me probably a 9 out of 10), which now, having read Less Than Zero feels like the masterpiece Ellis was working up to – similar themes and style, but a more mature version and a more involved plot. Read if you want an introduction to Ellis, or you liked American Psycho and want to see what came before.