Volume 4, Issue 8, (Originally Published on 7 September 2013)
To generalise, there are two somewhat recurrent complaints about Bret Easton Ellis’ work.
The first is that it is violent. The second is that he frequently writes with little emotion. As facts, both these state¬ments apply to Imperial Bedrooms; as criticisms, they are invalid.
This novel is a sequel to Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero, set decades later in the same city. If you recall, Less Than Zero was about a group of hedonistic young adults in Los Angeles. Imperial Bedrooms revisits them in the present-day, middle-aged, as a plot regarding the death of one of their own unravels before the reader.
So why are the aforementioned criti¬cisms invalid? The simple answer is that the novel is written in the first-person.
In Imperial Bedrooms – as in much of Ellis’ output – Ellis does not write about pleasant things. It is difficult to like most of the characters in this novel. They are deeply flawed and often amoral human beings, not least its narrator Clay. They frequently commit transgres-sive acts and seem to react nonchalantly to them.
Imperial Bedrooms might be about people who are ‘dead inside’, who ‘never liked anyone’ and are ‘afraid of people’, but one would assume its readers are not such people. Giving up the pursuit of liking one’s narrator is arguably an essential part of enjoying these works.
Seeing them as products of their envi¬ronment and as a mirror to the broken, impersonal worlds they are trapped in arouses a sympathy in the reader that the characters themselves may be inca¬pable of feeling.
Indeed, your reviewer finds that this novel arouses both terror and poignan¬cy, befitting of the tragic form. It is not Ellis who writes with little emotion; it is his protagonist.