In 1985, at the ripe age of 21, Bret Easton Ellis burst onto the literary scene with his debut novel, Less Than Zero — a (satirical?) story centered around a myopic nihilist named Clay, Clay's maybe-girlfriend Blair, and Clay's best friend Julian. Less Than Zero was a critical and commercial success and was later made into a Hollywood movie that bore little resemblance to its source material.
Ellis followed up with the novel The Rules of Attraction in 1987, and in 1991 published American Psycho — the highly controversial story of Manhattan businessman/serial killer Patrick Bateman. Originally refused for publication, and banned in several countries, American Psycho went on to be called "one of the key novels of the 20th century" by the Guardian. Next came The Informers (a collection of linked short stories) and Glamorama (a tale of espionage regarding a cell of brainwashed supermodels-turned-terrorists), which found Ellis switching from the era-defining novels readers had come to expect to a focus on deconstructing specific genres.
After Glamorama, Ellis seemed to disappear completely. While the subsequent film adaptations of American Psycho (2000) and The Rules of Attraction (2002) helped to keep his name and his novels in the public's mind, it wasn't until the publication of Lunar Park in 2005 that Ellis returned to the literary world. Much like Glamorama's take on the spy genre, Lunar Park was a horror story, a psychological thriller about a character named Bret Easton Ellis and the crumbling of his own fictional reality.
And, now, with the publication of Imperial Bedrooms, Ellis brings everything full circle — returning to the characters of his debut and placing them in a Chandler-esque Hollywood noir. Clay, Blair, Julian, Trent, Rip, and all of the other wasted youth of Less Than Zero are back in the Land of No Exit, otherwise know as Los Angeles, California. Twists, turns, sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll — it's all here. It has always been here.
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Gary Lee: After American Psycho you seemed to stop writing about specific eras, the 1980s and '90s, and, starting with Glamorama, moved into more of a genre reconstruction — for example, espionage or horror. Now you've written a psychological thriller. Was that intentional or simply a coincidence?
Bret Easton Ellis: There's no logic to why you write a novel. You have a feeling about why you want to write a book, and the book comes with that feeling.
I was thinking about writing something like Glamorama or Lunar Park while I was working on American Psycho, so, a long time ago, because I liked those kinds of books when I was a kid. I thought, One time, I want to try my hand at an espionage thriller. I also really love Stephen King's books, so I wanted to try that, too. But I wanted do it my own way. I didn't want to do a Xerox of them. I wanted to do something that resembles them, but had my own stamp. Then, of course, you think about it and stuff happens to you and you start to personalize them and then these books start announcing themselves. I don't know why.
I wouldn't call it coincidental, and I wouldn't call it something that's intentional. I would call it something that's an emotional response to a kind of fiction that gave me a lot of pleasure when I was younger. Because of that emotional response, I wanted to write a book like that. But, I can also look at my books post-American Psycho and say those are all very personal books. They meant a lot to me. They became something more than genre exercises for me. Certainly the craziness of Glamorama really mirrored what I was going through in my life at the time and the paranoia of it and, also, the whole notion that you can somehow be replaced by something other than your real self.
I thought about that a lot for many years. After I became the "literary prince of darkness" — or however people wanted to paint me — I saw this collective definition overtaking the real person, and it was something that I had to deal with. I think Glamorama stems from that. It was the same thing with Lunar Park, obviously: a genre exercise turned into something far more personal, much more like an exorcism for me than I ever imagined. I was thinking about writing a haunted house novel when I was 22 or 23. Certainly the noir effects in Imperial Bedrooms... Well, I wouldn't call it a noir novel, because it doesn't have the kind of resolution that noir novels have. It's more of a Hollywood novel, with stretches of noir in it. It's a reflection of a lot of things that I was going through at the time I was writing the book — and even before I was writing the book, when I was outlining the book.
That's a very long answer to a very simple question. [Laughter] I should have just said, "No, it's not. It's not coincidental. It's not intentional. I don't know where it comes from."