Tiny Pants's Reviews > Imperial Bedrooms

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis
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it was ok
bookshelves: borrowed-library, fiction

I would advise potential readers -- and if you're reading this now, that may mean you -- don't read any reviews of this book. Stop reading this right now. It's written in a fairly elliptical way, with dialogue faintly sketching and shading in the bones of the plot, and so anything you do know will take away from what's there. Even though I read his interview in New York and the "Talk of the Town" piece on Bret Easton Ellis in the New Yorker, these mercifully didn't give anything away. Okay, they said he was writing the book while living in the apartment that in the book belongs to Clay, but that doesn't tell you anything you couldn't already suspect if you knew anything about him. But then, then, I read the New Yorker "Books in Brief" capsule review -- just a few hundred words! Barely two inches of column text! -- and four words in that gave away the central plot of the book. I know, I know, I should just stop ever reading reviews if I haven't already read the book. But I'm not going to go back later and dig out that issue of the New Yorker, yada yada yada, so what can I do. Well, I can do this, and advise you, potential future reader, to stop reading this review, if you ignored my earlier directive. If you've already read it, or don't intend to read it, or simply don't care to follow advice from a stranger, read on.

If you thought Lunar Park was meta, hold on to your effing hat. At first, I thought that this book was simply the fruits of Bret Easton Ellis having had one idea in the early 80s, and then milking it for all it was worth. (And this is definitely true.) But as it turns out, I think this is actually his attempt to rewrite the movie adaptation of Less Than Zero, and turn it into something that's more his style, aka torture porn. The beginning is, if indulgent, at least engaging, and particularly if you are very familiar with the book, the movie, and his subsequent writing, you will get the cozy feeling of being an insider who gets all the references. Throughout the middle, I was like, "You know what? He might just actually pull this off!" One thing Ellis does do well here is create a fictive Hollywood world that blends relatively seamlessly with the real thing -- to his credit, he is good at weaving in references without overdoing it. But I shouldn't have been surprised that it disappointed in the end.

Maybe I'm misremembering Less Than Zero. But you know, I claimed it as my favorite book for a few years there (admittedly, my darkest years), and I've read it several times, so I think I remember it pretty well. In spite of the drug use, in spite of the sexual assault, in spite of well, all of it, I never really thought Clay was bad. He just was sort of, well, there, letting it wash over him. Things just happen, and the only thing bounding the book in any way or making it cohere into a plot is the school calendar, his Christmas break beginning and ending. Probably this is why I liked it so well -- if you've read many of my other reviews, you know that I sincerely enjoy books that are structured this way, with lots of characterization through description and minor incidents that show us more about the character, and without a big "will s/he find him/herself/fix the marriage/move on/overcome cancer/learn to love again" etc., etc.

As this book reminds us, Clay shows up as a minor character in the background of The Rules of Attraction, and though my memory here is fuzzy, may well pop into American Psycho. It's only with Lunar Park that Ellis decides that we need to see Clay as not simply a blase 80s hedonist nihilist but as basically a West Coast Patrick Bateman. Why? Who the hell knows. Who knows how he comes up with any of this stuff? There was one scene in this book that I couldn't read in its entirety, and you really have to wonder how he comes up with these ways to degrade and destroy human bodies. One thing I will say in this book as compared to the others, for whatever reason, he's made everyone sort of vaguely bisexual, so even though women still get the worst of it (there isn't a single work in the Ellis oeuvre that makes you think he has anything but complete contempt for women, making my persistence in reading it all the stranger), he's definitely gotten more into humiliating and eviscerating men. Good times!

Long story short: Don't believe the jacket copy that describes this as "a genuine literary event" unless you are the kind of person who thinks that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is going to be "a genuine cinematic event." While it doesn't destroy whatever charm Less than Zero still holds for me (as I fully expected it to), it would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 6, 2010 – Shelved
August 6, 2010 – Shelved as: borrowed-library
August 6, 2010 – Shelved as: fiction
August 6, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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message 1: by Tom (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tom O’Connell Great review, and that Wall Street comparison is on the money.

Regarding your comments about Clay's erratic shift off the rails, Ellis justifies this (and in a way gets around it) by opting for the world-in-a-world self-aware device described in IB's opening. The Clay from Less Than Zero is not the "real" Clay, but merely an author's representation. This author character only knows Clay on a surface level, so it stands to reason that the real Clay (who's pretty infamous for being all in all unexpressive) could well be as pathological as the Clay from Imperial Bedrooms.
I guess Ellis wants us to consider it an unmasking of his real identity, and not a gradual progression (regression?) of his character. It might be a cheap device to employ, but I thought it worth noting just the same.

Great review. Very insightful :-)

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