"Bret takes David Hockney’s vision of California and fists it"
His last three novels barely touched upon the greatness of Less Than Zero, Rules of Attraction or American Psycho, so it is refreshing and exciting to see Bret back at his best with Imperial Bedrooms.
The book operates within a realm of metafiction where Less Than Zero, the 1980s prequel, is a novel that exists in the characters' lives too, written and based on their younger selves, and Clay discusses his thoughts on its publication. The film adaptation is mocked by Clay as being “very different from the book in that nothing from the book was in the movie”, and Clay is amused that it depicts Blair discovering her Dad having an extramarital affair with a woman, when it was a teenage boy and her Dad in fact died of AIDS.
Again and again, Bret attacks Hollywood for its mindboggling surface ignorance of homosexuality’s existence, whilst indentifying the illegal underworld that thrives on this denial. Hollywood is a closet, a cupboard full of Armani jackets and dangling skeletons, and this claustrophobia intensifies as we see the same characters sipping cocktails around the same pools, and still chained to each other helplessly.
Bret keeps one step ahead of critics this time, even mimicking the cotton candy sycophantism that journalists write about his work – “showcasing the youthful indifference, the gleaming nihilism, glamorizing the horror of it all.”
As Clay, Blair, Trent and Julian sit in the cinema watching themselves Imperial Bedrooms touches upon a bizarre Christmas Carol element of self-examination which then caves in to parody and plastic, ending up a bit like the episode of Ab Fab where Eddie and Patsy watch themselves in Saffy’s play.
Interestingly is it Rip, once-upon-a-time a cute drug dealer in Less Than Zero who gave boys weed for sucking him off, who leads the pack now, grossly obsessed with the acquisition of an actress. Rip emerges as a kind of super villain and truly the stuff of nightmares. Having undergone plastic surgery beyond recognition, Rip manages a circle of underage escorts, which in turn becomes a profitable blackmailing device.
Paranoia storms through Imperial Bedrooms on a level that could rival Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. Bret doesn’t quite embrace 2010, making no attempt to engage with Google and Facebook (nor do any of his vacuous wannabe actresses Tweet at all), but he does give an important place to text messages, represented as ghostly apparitions in the backs of BMWs.
Imperial Bedrooms is in many ways a celebration of Bret’s work. Blair and Rain are desperate and dead inside like the women in Glamorama, there are elements of the supernatural that nod towards The Informers and there are trinklets of youth observation to be found that are reminiscent of Rules of Attraction. The violence is unbelievably more brutal than American Psycho, with hard-hitting internet torture scenes and significantly Julian’s dead body that is described on Page 2 as looking like an American flag– “A white Tom Ford suit… streaked with red… his crumpled face was a blue so dark it was almost black.”
Bret takes David Hockney’s vision of California and fists it. We see a copy of Less Than Zero sinking into a swimming pool whilst indoors Clay beats and fucks a boy from an Abercrombie & Fitch shoot who will do literally anything to become an actor.
Yet Imperial Bedrooms is a beautiful and well-written novel and the classic Easton Ellis paradigm of accusations and accolades aimed at big bad Hollywood is at its strongest. Bret seems at his happiest in his own work here too, delighting in the rancid and shitty sexual fantasies and hammering home his own home-grown themes that all of us are for sale, all of us write ourselves, all of us re-write ourselves, and then finally erase ourselves into oblivion.
Imperial Bedrooms evolves into a fantastic poolside thriller. Who's sending the anonymous texts? Who's fucking Rain? Why do actresses keep disappearing? What does Blair know that Clay doesn't? Who's memorial service will it be next week? What does Rip really want?
Imperial Bedrooms is out now in hardback, RRP £16.99
Bret Easton Ellis will also be at Latitude festival later this month.
Above: Doheny Plaza, where Clay lives in the apartment of a dead boy that haunts him.