Bret Easton Ellis
In the time it takes to get a half decent suntan, you can finish Ellis’s new novella – it’s as slender as a runway model. Afterwards, though, Imperial Bedrooms will leave you feeling bruised, guarded and a little nervous about noises at night. This must be part of its plan.
Arrestingly spare, the book is the sequel to its author’s literary arrival, 1985’s Less Than Zero. It reintroduces us to privileged LA kids Clay, Julian, Rip and Blair, now all older but far from wiser. (The slip of a plot will also bring to mind the ferocity of Ellis’s American Psycho). But while ageing ungracefully could be said to be a theme, what you really notice is Ellis’s new-found love of noir: he’s reinvigorated and ready to get mysterious and mean.
Drugs figure less prominently this time. Instead, we get a bona-fide stalker sending cryptic texts to our fortysomething narrator, Clay, a sought-out screenwriter and very nearly a stand-in for Ellis himself. Soon enough comes Rain, an alluring actress desperate for a part in Clay’s forthcoming The Listeners (basically Ellis’s own The Informers). She’s untalented, but Clay lets lust go to his head; only the naïve will confuse this for romantic vulnerability.
Suggestively autobiographical, Imperial Bedrooms enlists the author’s own anxieties and casting-couch power plays. As ever, Ellis’s details crystallise into elegant remoteness; even haters must defer to how fully he owns his style. And if this is shallowness, that word needs a new definition.