Title: Imperial Bedrooms
Pagecount: 169 (haha?)
Author: Bret Easton Ellis (A, and innocent until proven guilty.)
When I was working on my undergrad, there was a gentleman of my acquaintance who, besides being a funny bastard, greatly enjoyed several authors, one of which was Bret Easton Ellis. He loved Ellis so much, in fact, that during a school function wherein readers were encouraged to dress up like the author they were portraying, he chose Ellis specifically so that he ‘could smear my face in flour to show all the cocaine’.
He did it. Visiting parents were not amused. The rest of us were but that’s another story.
Following in my vein/habit of not knowing anything about an author widely considered controversial or well debated before reading their books, I picked up Imperial Bedrooms in the Borders Collapse. I did this simply because I recalled Ellis as someone on that hazy ‘list of authors you should read if you want to write’- and also because I couldn’t find a copy of American Psycho, which another peer called the most fucked up book he’d ever read. You’ve never met Daniel but I assure you- it’s quite the recommendation.
Imperial Bedrooms is apparently the ‘sequel’ of Less than Zero, the first book Ellis wrote, published in 1985. I put quotes around sequel because though this book shares characters, I don’t sense that it is meant to insinuate a continuation of Less Than Zero’s story. judging from the detached manner in which the protagonist of Imperial Bedrooms walks through his life, I would suspect that it’s more like a stepping stone further on the pathway to hell. Not a highway, no- highway insinuates a grand exit, going out with a bang, riding with the devil. Ellis’s characters do not ride with the devil. They go gently into that good night.
A synopsis is in order, of course. Our protagonist is casting for a movie. There is a girl he winds up sleeping with who wants to be in the movie. Said girl is in love with a friend of his, but is also the boyfriend of another friend, who may or may not have ties to drug cartels. The rest is history.
I’m surprised by how much I loved the writing style of Imperial Bedrooms. There aren’t so much chapters as there are short sections separated by paragraph breaks, which made it easier for me to keep up while reading in the back room at my dayjob. I also found myself fascinated by the detachment, which reminded me of Camus’s The Stranger.
I can’t speak much to the recurring themes of Imperial Bedrooms since, as mentioned, I haven’t read anything else by Ellis. Whether or not it’s a good idea to start at what one could call the end and work backwards- I suppose I’ll find out. What little I’ve read about Ellis himself creates the image of a man I find fascinating, and I rarely find other writers fascinating. Interesting, maybe. Fascinating, never.
Somewhere on the internet I read that Ellis’s work has a very voyeuristic feel to it, that the reader can’t help but be uncomfortable because things are happening and he or she can’t do a thing to stop them. I did find the voyeur part to be true. I can’t report feeling uncomfortable, perhaps because of my consistent view that ‘what’s done has been done’. There is a sense of immediacy in Imperial Bedrooms, because the book is written in the present tense. I don’t feel required to stop the events occurring. I just watch them play out.
It’s easy to slap the satire label on Imperial Bedrooms, possibly because it is semi-biographical in the case of Ellis’s work on the movie The Informers and also because it so clearly shows off the suspected underbelly of LA. I hesitate to say that it is meant as any kind of red flag or ‘whoop there it is’ representation of the culture of Hollywood. Is that present? Oh without a friggin’ doubt, but Imperial Bedrooms goes beyond that first layer of veneer- the lies we all know about but no one really talks about out loud, because talking about it would make it real- and delves right into the secondary layer of absolutes.
What I find the most interesting about the protagonist is how much of an utter bastard he is. He’s selfish, absorbed, clueless about everything hovering just outside his little world and yet you can’t help but hope he makes it through. Over the course of the book you want to ask him ‘why are you doing this? what the fuck do you think you’re up to? hello?’ but you don’t. One can sense that even if he were sitting across the table and you were holding up cue cards, he still wouldn’t get it. He’s one of those men who is destined to never get it. The difference is that when he doesn’t get it, people get hurt. That doesn’t matter to him, that people get hurt. What matters is that he stays in balance. Balance is key, because he doesn’t like anyone and is afraid of people.
If you look at Imperial Bedrooms as a sort of psuedo autobiography all sorts of things could be pulled from it, which would without a doubt ‘prove’ that Bret Easton Ellis is a man who needs serious help. In argument I turn you to something Completely Different, episode 40 of As Told By Ginger, And Then She Was Gone. Why Ginger? Well, for one thing, it’s an awesome show far superior to the crap they air today. For another, it neatly explains in less than an hour what I’m trying to tell you. A writer will inevitably puts parts of his or herself into work, that’s true- but a writer isn’t always their writing, either. If we wanted to start that debate I’d need a whole other blog.
To wrap it up, Imperial Bedrooms was a good introduction to the somewhat manic world of Bret Easton Ellis. If you’re emotional enough to feel responsible for the acts of the characters you are following, maybe you’d better skip this one. If you’ve been avoiding this novel because ‘it can’t possibly be as good as American Psycho’ then it’s your loss. If you think the themes are overplayed, well, it is a sequel. I liked it. I’ll be seeking out more of Mr. Ellis, when I have the time, the inclination, and the knowledge that I won’t be stopped trying to get on a plane while carrying a copy of one of his books.
Tune in next time for the precise moment when Lord Of The Flies finally catches up to me.