What I Just Read – Imperial Bedrooms

Imperial Bedrooms is Bret Easton Ellis’ return to L.A. and the characters of Less Than Zero, now grown to middle age.

I am a pretty big fan of B.E.E. and his penchant for very controlled writing that can be astoundingly evocative and disturbing.  I will admit that I don’t think Lunar Park and Glamorama quite hold up to the quality of Less than Zero, Rules of Attraction, or American Psycho, but I always found his work to be interesting, original and entertaining.  Sadly, Imperial Bedrooms broke this streak.

At first, despite a nagging voice at the back of my head telling me that revisiting characters a few decades later is usually a really poor choice, I was pretty hopeful about this book.  The opening chapter seemed to promise a deconstruction of Ellis’ world of sociopathic disengagement, outrageous wealth, ennui, sex, and violence; a reinterpretation of the characters that made Ellis famous through a more grounded and realistic lens.  This would have been a really engaging read and would have shown that Ellis was looking to challenge himself as a writer.   Instead you got more of the same, with the characters aged into middle age and the technology and terminology updated to the 21st century.

The best way I can think to describe Imperial Bedrooms is a bunch of unused bits from Ellis’ other works tossed into a blender and formed into a basic plot with some devious mystery tacked on.  Apparently he was looking for a sort of Raymond Chandler vibe, but I think he missed that by a good margin.  You get the characters who are all ostensibly friends, but treat each other like shit.  You have the constant name dropping of expensive brands.  You have the constant infidelity and sex that seems to occur almost out of necessity rather than pleasure.  You have a main character who is incredibly emotionally abusive to anyone with any kind of feelings.  You have the abrupt dives into brutal violence that may or may not be real. And so on and so on.  I suppose the main character seems a bit more openly pathetic than most of the Ellis protagonists, but that alone doesn’t really lend itself to a great book.

Imperial Bedrooms isn’t horrible by any means, but it isn’t anything special.  Everything Ellis does, he’s already done and better with his earlier books.  The book doesn’t seem to be anything more than a bit of nostalgia and going through the motions of another Bret Easton Ellis novel in L.A.


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