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"I never liked anyone and I'm afraid of people"
on 6 July 2010
The old gang from "Less Than Zero" are revisited in a sort of sequel, "Imperial Bedrooms". They were wasted as teenagers and they're wasted in middle age. Trent Burroughs is married to Blair, Julian Wells is around, Rip Millar is creepier than the last time, while Clay is as vapid and self-absorbed as ever.
The story begins with a film Clay wrote and is helping produce, "The Listeners", where he meets a desperate and beautiful actress, Rain Turner, who will do anything for a starring role. Clay and Rain become involved but then the murders start happening and Clay doesn't realise what he's gotten himself into nor who Rain really is. Mysterious texts follow sackings of his flat and blue/green BMWs stalking Clay wherever he goes. Somehow his "friends" are all tied into this and Clay has to decide who to trust...
If not for the characters' names this could easily be a standalone book rather than a sequel. Besides finding out that our heroes of "Less" turn out to be older and still behave like they did 25 years ago, it's not exactly a revelatory update. But that's fine because the book is more than the better for it. It launches straight into the story. The story seems very The Hills/The OC in style; it's all about who slept with who, what their game is, jilted love, revenge, etc. except for several horrific scenes. I'm thinking of what Clay does to the two hookers at the end and the grotesque murder (all detailed) of one of the main characters by another. Also, while this is a Hollywood novel, Ellis doesn't do what most Hollywood novels do and inject satire or parody into the story. It's a straightfoward serious story that plays off of perceived Hollywood stereotypes to construct something original.
Ellis specialises in 1st person narration and Clay's voice is as cold and dispassionate as it was in the '80s and the familiar scenes of drug abuse and sexual exploitation are told with all the emotional resonance of a shopping list. We see the story through Clay's eyes and his lack of interest in his friends from "Less Than Zero" heighten their characters' level of interest in the reader. Rip in particular is a menacing figure who seems to be somehow omnipotent but because Clay shields himself from finding out about Rip's life, we never know more about him, making Rip even more terrifying. Clay's a great character who evolves throughout the story from being emotionally detached to become totally changed, finally ending on the words "I never liked anyone and I'm afraid of people".
"1985-2010" follow the final sentence and makes me wonder if Ellis is giving up novel writing or maybe he's giving up writing the type of novel he's famous for. I hope that's not the case. Even if some will look at this and dislike aspects of it (and if you've read Ellis before and didn't like him, this book won't change your opinion), Ellis is still by far one of the finest novelists around at the moment. It was never going to be the groundbreaking book "Less Than Zero" was but it has the virtue of being more interesting than almost any novel published this year. "Imperial Bedrooms" is overall a well written and worthwhile read.