Being a Bret Easton Ellis fan is certainly not the easiest of things to be, especially when he takes such a leisurely attitude to writing new books, even more so when you compare him to many other authors who are churning out a new book a year, while us fans of Mr. Ellis have been having to wait five long years for the release of this latest title “Imperial Bedrooms” the sequel to his debut novel “Less than Zero” the events of which it now follows on from twenty five years later as Clay, self absorbed and vapid as ever is now a successful screenwriter based in New York, returns to LA with the intent of casting for his latest film adaptation, only to find himself once again caught up in various plots and schemes of his former friends.
Having created an alternate biography for himself with “Lunar Park” it is interesting to see that he has continued to blur the lines, between the fictional world and the real world, as the opening describes “Less Than Zero” as being the result of a character known only as “the writer” who used the lives of Clay and his friends as inspiration for the book, while also taking shots at the film adaptation, which for as fans of the original novel who have seen it, will already know was wildly different from the novel, much like “American Psycho” which didn’t seem to bother the majority of horror fans and despite still being a watchable film, still felt like a heavily sterilised version of the book, which along with “The Rules of Attraction” still remains one of my favourite books that he has written, unlike “Less Than Zero” which despite being a good book, was certainly not one of my favourites, while as an author he remains an important influence on my own writing, having been one the authors, along with Chuck Palahniuk and Hunter S. Thompson who made me want to become a writer in the first place.
One of the main questions I had about this book was mainly whether “Less Than Zero” really needed a sequel, especially when it always felt a very self contained book, with the build up toward Clay escaping LA with the intention of never coming back. Yet it’s possibly how linked it is to the 80’s like John Hughes movies and "The Brat Pack" that brought about the decision to bring the story into the 00’s especially with it’s numerous references to Iphones and Viral videos, which appear throughout only helping to bring the story up to date, while the original characters it seems have remained largely the same, having it seems only increased their social statuses in the time which has elapsed between the two books. Still the usual suspects return once again, as memorable as they were before, with their behaviour only seemly gotten worse in the years which have passed since we last met them, with Blair and Trent now involved in a loveless marriage, while Julian has moved on from being a low level rent boy, to now running his own exclusive escort service and finally Rip is as ever still a lurking presence in their lives, as he continues to run his own personal schemes, with the lives of the characters all based in the Hollywood studio system and the production of “The Listeners”, which provides their newest playground and replacing the party scene, which provided the back drop of the original novel.
The main difference between the two books though would be largely in the style, he has chosen to write each of them in, with “Less Than Zero” being memorably almost plot free and like a string of encounters, only loosely strung together, while “Imperial Bedrooms” being heavily plot driven, with Clay becoming embroiled in a plot surrounding a young actress called Rain Turner, whom it soon turns out shares more of a link with Clays past than it would first seem, as he uses her affection for him, which he is fully aware of being her attempt to earn a role in this latest adaptation “The Listeners”, whose title a nod perhaps to the 2009 adaptation of his short story collection “The Informers”. Still this change in style feels like it is working against the book, with fans of the original books no doubt expecting to find more of the same, only to instead find Ellis attempting to bring the style he developed in “Lunar park” into this latest book and despite having a strong opening, it soon feels like a pulpy noir novel and despite having the occasional trademark flourish, ends up being bogged down with ponderous plotting and a bombardment of product placement, which fails to envelop the reader in the same way his previous books did, even the mysterious blue jeep stalking Clay has a feeling of Déjà vu, worrying make it seem like he may have peaked as a writer, further more by his comments made during a recent interview on Chuckpahahunik.net (aka “The Cult) in which he expressed his interests of moving into writing for Television, while a scene involving two hookers towards the end of the book almost feels like a last ditch effort, to insert some of the shock factor which made his previous books so memorable into this latest title, as no doubt this book is set to become one of the more forgotten titles in his back catalogue rather than being ranked amongst his best works.