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Bret Easton Ellis: The Top 5 Works

The King of Hedonist Literature's Best!

By Annie KapurPublished 5 years ago 8 min read
A Young Bret Easton Ellis

When you think about Bret Easton Ellis, you're most likely to think of the man who created the feared antagonist Patrick Bateman, or the man who created the tragic Julian, or even the man who most recently wrote on racial divides and how he feels about identity politics in the modern world (somewhat controversial, but understood all the same).

The truth is that Bret Easton Ellis is a genius. I challenge you to find anyone who can actually write like him. There are so many things he can express in such simplicity, using as little words as possible but describing the most extreme of situations and emotions. His language use is nearly always raw with this constant undertone of discontented youth. It is a brilliant achievement of literature to be able to express so much by using simple, yet coarse language, and making characters that could possibly be real people.

Personally, my experience with Bret Easton Ellis novels is that about ten years ago I read all of them. I read them all. I thought that they were the best thing since sliced bread, and I even did one of my coursework pieces on one Bret Easton Ellis' novel around two years after that. My question was:

"How does Julian compare with a Shakespearean Tragic Hero in Ellis' 'Less Than Zero' and is he really tragic at all?"

I know right, brilliant! I made that question by myself and sought after analysing the language not only used by Julian but also about him by other people in the novel, especially the narrator, Clayton.

Let's go through one of my all-time favourite authors' top five most incredible works then (you all already know what number one is going to be! I've given it away!!!)

5. Glamorama

“Café Flore is packed, shimmering, every table filled. Bentley notices this with a grim satisfaction but Bentley feels lost. He’s still haunted by the movie Grease and obsessed with legs that he always felt were too skinny though no one else did and it never hampered his modelling career and he’s still not over a boy he met at a Styx concert in 1979 in a stadium somewhere in the Midwest, outside a town he has not been back to since he left it at eighteen, and that boy’s name was Cal, who pretended to be straight even though he initially fell for Bentley’s looks but Cal knew Bentley was emotionally crippled and the fact that Bentley didn’t believe in heaven didn’t make him more endearing so Cal drifted off and inevitably became head of programming at HBO for a year or two. Bentley sits down, already miked, and lights a cigarette. Next to them Japanese tourists study maps, occasionally snap photos. This is the establishing shot.”

Glamorama is all about appearance, modeling and the hedonist lifestyle that comes with it. The most important thing about this novel is the imagery though. I think the images throughout the book are so clever, just look at the one about Bentley lighting a cigarette in the paragraph above. She's not doing anything extraordinary, and she's not even overly described as doing anything at all, but you can tell exactly how she's feeling when she does it. Why? The wording of the paragraph gives so much light to atmosphere without being too wordy. It is something that will define the writing style of one of the best writers of the late 20th Century.

4. The Rules of Attraction

“Got you. You're mine now. For the rest of the day, week, month, year, life. Have you guessed who I am? Sometimes I think you have. Sometimes when you're standing in a crowd I feel those sultry, dark eyes of yours stop on me. Are you too afraid to come up to me and let me know how you feel? I want to moan and writhe with you and I want to go up to you and kiss your mouth and pull you to me and say "I love you I love you I love you" while stripping. I want you so bad it stings. I want to kill the ugly girls that you're always with. Do you really like those boring, naive, coy, calculating girls or is it just for sex? The seeds of love have taken hold, and if we won't burn together, I'll burn alone.”

The Rules of Attraction as Gore Vidal describes it on the cover of the book is a "wonderfully comic novel" and personally, I think it is one of Ellis' best efforts at telling the tale of hedonism through the lens of what people find attractive in a world packed full of drugs, alcohol, and people pretty much doing what they feel like regardless of whether it is breaking the law.

3. Lunar Park

“The heroin flowing through me, I thought about the last time I saw my father alive. He was drunk and overweight in a restaurant in Beverly Hills, and curling into myself on the bed I thought: What if I had done something that day? I had just sat passively in a restaurant booth as the midday light filled the half-empty dining room, pondering a decision. The decision was: should you disarm him? That was the word I remember: disarm. Should you tell him something that might not be the truth but would get the desired reaction? And what was I going to convince him of, even though it was a lie? Did it matter? Whatever it was, it would constitute a new beginning. The immediate line: You’re my father and I love you. I remember staring at the white tablecloth as I contemplated saying this. Could I actually do it? I didn’t believe it, and it wasn’t true, but I wanted it to be. For one moment, as my father ordered another vodka (it was two in the afternoon; this was his fourth) and started ranting about my mother and the slump in California real estate and how “your sisters” never called him, I realized it could actually happen, and that by saying this I would save him. I suddenly saw a future with my father. But the check came along with the drink and I was knocked out of my reverie by an argument he wanted to start and I simply stood up and walked away from the booth without looking back at him or saying goodbye and then I was standing in sunlight. Loosening my tie as a parking valet pulled up to the curb in the cream-colored 450 SL. I half smiled at the memory, for thinking that I could just let go of the damage that a father can do to a son. I never spoke to him again.”

This novel has often been described as a semi-autobiography as it details sections of Ellis' life that are well-known to the public such as: the fact that Ellis' had an abusive father and the two of them had a strained relationship, Ellis' found himself trapped in a hedonist world once he found fame and fortune with his novel "Less than Zero" and finally, he loved and lost various people during this incredibly difficult time. It is safe to say he hadn't had it easy at all, but Lunar Park shows us what happens when autobiography meets fantasist literature. It is a brilliant account of a life that is still, even today, unfolding.

2. Imperial Bedrooms

“In the movie I was played by an actor who actually looked more like me than the character the author portrayed in the book: I wasn't blond, I wasn't tan, and neither was the actor. I also suddenly became the movie's moral compass, spouting AA jargon, castigating everyone's drug use and trying to save Julian. (I'll sell my car," I warn the actor playing Julian's dealer. "Whatever it takes.") This was slightly less true of Blair's character, played by a girl who actually seemed like she belonged in our group-- jittery, sexually available, easily wounded. Julian became the sentimentalized version of himself, acted by a talented, sad-faced clown, who has an affair with Blair and then realizes he has to let her go because I was his best bud. "Be good to her," Julian tells Clay. "She really deserves it." The sheer hypocrisy of this scene must have made the author blanch. Smiling secretly to myself with perverse satisfaction when the actor delivered that line, I then glanced at Blair in the darkness of the screening room.”

This is a novel that I always like to think of as a man suffering from PTSD style flashbacks to the novel that precedes it (Less than Zero). It is one of the greatest achievements Bret Easton Ellis has ever made—Imperial Bedrooms, named after a song, is a masterpiece of modern literature in so many ways. Looking at the now screenwriter Clayton, we see how the events of Less than Zero have changed his life and how he gets somewhat violent with the reader. He shows the reader his new, adjusted lifestyle and yet, his mind is breaking at the seems when you take a closer look.

1. Less Than Zero

“Julian’s not at the house in Bel Air, but there’s a note on the door saying that he might be at some house on King’s Road. Julian’s not at the house on King’s Road either, but some guy with braces and short platinum-blond hair and a bathing suit on lifting weights is in the backyard. He puts one of the weights down and lights a cigarette and asks me if I want a Quaalude. I ask him where Julian is. There’s a girl lying by the pool on a chaise longue, blond, drunk, and she says in a really tired voice, ‘Oh, Julian could be anywhere. Does he owe you money?’ The girl has brought a television outside and is watching some movie about cavemen. ‘No,’ I tell her. ‘Well, that’s good. He promised to pay for a gram of coke I got him.’ She shakes her head. ‘Nope. He never did.’ She shakes her head again, slowly, her voice thick, a bottle of gin, half-empty, by her side. The weightlifter with the braces on asks me if I want to buy a Temple of Doom bootleg cassette. I tell him no and then ask him to tell Julian that I stopped by. The weight-lifter nods his head like he doesn’t understand and the girl asks him if he got the backstage passes to the Missing Persons concert. He says, ‘Yeah, baby,’ and she jumps in the pool. Some caveman gets thrown off a cliff and I split.”

This novel is not only Ellis' greatest achievement, but it is also possibly one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century. This novel details the life of Clayton and friends when he returns home for Christmas. Set in the hedonist generation of the 80s as their way of life is slowly, but surely coming to and end, this novel details what happens when it does. It is an implosion of self-destruction and everyone around Clay seems to be changing in ways that means that they cannot survive in this new world or it means that they simply choose not to. Growing up is hard, but growing up in a world that is skewed against you is even more so. And with crippling drug addictions, alcohol problems and violent outbursts of extreme levels, Ellis' details the lifestyles of teenagers who see their worlds crumble before them. The novel is one of the 20th Century's most incredible and incriminating pieces of literature—it is near-perfect and definitely in my top 50 favourite novels of all time.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

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