Most helpful critical review
The mixed reviews are understandable
on 17 February 2013
'Less Than Zero' was given to me as a gift and I've never read anything like it before. The minimalist style, the lack of chapters (making events flow in some kind of relentless monotony), the story itself - I would reccomend it to anyone. Knowing there was a sequel I decided it may be worth checking out. Despite seeing a number of mixed reviews I bought it, knowing that sometimes the reviews don't do the books justice.
Having read it, I unfortunately must admit that I understand why 'Imperial Bedrooms' wasn't received too warmly. It starts off alright, with the 'real' Clay reflecting on how his life was "hijacked" by a mysterious author, but events quickly become rather boring. The film meetings and parties just aren't that interesting, though this may have something to do with the ages of the characters (they aren't as lively in their forties). Things get slightly more interesting as Clay's flawed relationship with Rain develops, but even then there is little excitement and it remains between somewhere between boring and exciting for the rest of the book.
Clay and Rain's relationship flags up another problem. Anyone who's read "Less Than Zero" will know that Clay had his flaws in that book - the complete lack of emotion, the addiction, etc. Ellis tries to show how much more flawed an adult Clay is when it comes to relationships, but in my opinion he overdoes it and as a consequence he makes Clay completely unlikeable. You could sometimes sympathise with the young Clay, but here it's almost impossible. His attitude towards women (they're basically just there to fill his sleazy desires) and his friends (he betrays them with little care) is quite disgusting. This is most likely deliberate - after all, it is stated at the beginning of the book that this is a different Clay. Still, I preferred the one that I could understand, even if he was constantly coked-up and incapable of emotion.
The only other issue I can think of right now is the mess of subplots. 'Imperial Bedrooms' adopts slightly more convential story-telling techniques, with one storyline split into sections instead of multiple events filling the book. To make things more interesting, Ellis adds a story involving Clay's friends and a number of murder victims, but this becomes hard to keep track of. Characters hint at others' involvement and try to talk about what's going on vaguely, leading to it all becoming a bit of a mess.
You can see that with 'Imperial Bedrooms', Ellis was trying to show this new Clay's deeper problems in a more convential format (with typical murder mystery storylines thrown in to spice things up). However, reading it just made me feel rather disappointed that this is what came after the great book that 'Less Than Zero' was. The surface storyline (Clay's life in film and his relationship with Rain) alternates between being boring, slightly interesting and sickening, and the murder subplots just become confusing. It may benefit from some re-reading, but otherwise I would tell any fans of 'Less Than Zero' who are curious about this to give it a miss.