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Bret Easton Ellis is the bad boy of highbrow lit and, if new novel Imperial Bedrooms is anything to go by, he has little intention of mellowing with age. He talks about ultraviolence, misogyny, mid-life ennui, the joys of cyberstalking and explains why he decided to revisit his first book, Less Than Zero, in the new tome. Plus, he expands on the controversial claim that women rarely make for good movie-makers.
Peter Murphy, 01 Sep 2010
Before he’s even taken his seat in the Merrion Hotel lounge in Dublin, Bret Easton Ellis is demanding to know what we could possibly ask that he hasn’t already been asked a thousand times before. He’s certainly changed from our last encounter five years ago, when he was still recovering from the deaths of his father and lover Michael Wade Kaplan.
If 2005’s Lunar Park suggested the writer was adopting a more compassionate tone in his work, the new book Imperial Bedrooms signals a return to numbed brutalism. It’s also a sequel to his celebrated debut Less Than Zero (“It’s aged pretty well, I think,” he says of that first book, “the neutrality, the flatness of tone helped.”). Twenty-five years down the line, glazed party boy Clay is now in his early 40s, a successful screenwriter with a production credit that he uses to bed desperate actresses. Years in Hollywood hell have reduced him to a wretched, dehumanised, semi-alcoholic shell. The Satanic shadow of Chip Kidd’s stunning cover design is only slightly overstating the case.
Is it any good? Yes and no. The first half, in which Clay is stalked by cellphone and falls for a very 21st century kind of LA femme fatale (beautiful but vacuous, devious but dim) is a modern day Mulholland Drive/The Big Sleep/Sunset Boulevard noir that updates the blank generationism of its predecessor to an age when people have more intimate relationships with their cellphones than their fellow human beings. Once past the halfway mark the book loses focus, lapsing into convoluted plot manouevres, long passages of clumsy he said/she said dialogue and some skin-crawling ultraviolence. The snuff movie of Less Than Zero has been supplanted by online digital nasties that make Salo look like Sesame Street. In other words, Imperial Bedrooms is something of a regression.
But Ellis remains one of the few literary stars left, one who can still generate headlines before breakfast (recent comments about why he believes men are innately more suited to making films than women had the bloggers up in arms). Every one of his books has been filmed or is in production, and he’s lately been writing for television. His most notorious work American Psycho remains one of the few books to be sold in shrink-wrap and stamped with an over-18s sticker. The controversy that attended that book’s publication (a corporate hand-washing fiasco that echoed the release of Never Mind The Bollocks...), may have receded, and Mary Harron’s film adaption, starring Christian Bale as the sociopathic, cannibalistic Huey Lewis-loving yuppie Patrick Bateman, has both disseminated and diluted the shockwaves throughout the culture, but a re-reading confirms it as one of the all-time great bad novels, indulgent snuff porn in parts (and there are a lot of parts), but frequently hilarious. Ellis’s stock is still high despite the recession: here’s one of the few authors who can justify a big budget transatlantic junket and a room at the Merrion.