Twenty-five years after the release of his successful debut novel, Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis is back with its sequel, Imperial Bedrooms.
Although all Ellis’s work published in the years between Less Than Zero and this latest novel follows various members of the same cast of loosely connected characters, Imperial Bedrooms picks up with the disillusioned youth we left in 1985, only now they’re disillusioned adults in 2010.
This newest addition to Ellis’s repertoire certainly doesn’t lack the overt sexuality, graphic violence or rampant drug use of its predecessors, but it does seem to be missing the apathy and callousness that make his previous works so much more enjoyable.
To put it simply, Imperial Bedrooms has too much of a conscience, considering it comes from the same man who brought us American Psycho.
Ellis wrote Less Than Zero when he was 21. The entire novel is about bored, rich college-aged kids in Los Angeles. Readers are privy to their world for only a month, but that’s more than enough time to see these kids being kids, while exploring a dark abyss devoid of any morals.
In the sequel they’re all still wandering hopelessly through LA with their immoral compasses, but they’re also still acting like over-privileged kids, which is pretty pathetic considering they’re in their 40’s.
When the characters were 18 and living so recklessly just because they could, it was exciting and dangerous. Now that they know better and spend half the novel justifying their immature actions to readers, the whole thing reads like Ellis begging to still be considered relevant.
Ironically, I thought he was before starting Imperial Bedrooms.
When Ellis was first thrust onto the literary scene during his undergraduate years at Binghamton University in the 80’s, the subjects he dealt with were new and shocking to readers. There weren’t many outlets where people could learn about how shamelessly that part of society lives.
Now, thanks largely to the fine programming on E! and Bravo, not to mention that whole internet thing, we are over-exposed to this. There hardly seems a need for someone to be writing an insider’s look at L.A.’s rich and troubled anymore.
Beyond the sheer irrelevance of this novel, the plot just comes up short. Ellis is known for his intertwining plots that are never what they seem, but I’ve read more complex stories in my creative writing classes.
Imperial Bedrooms is just the convoluted story of three middle-aged men fighting over a blonde twenty-three-year-old who wants to be an actress in LA. Arguably Ellis’s most realistic novel.
Of course, Ellis is too clever for his first novel in five years to be that simplistic. With such a basic, contrived plot, it’s likely that, like his other works, Imperial Bedrooms acts as an updated commentary on our one-dimensional, materialistic culture. Hell, every other page references a character’s iPhone or BMW.
An important, though certainly not unique, lesson that we could all benefit from remembering, sure, but Ellis has taught readers variations of the evils of materialism in six previous works. And each one does it better than Imperial Bedrooms.
Perhaps this critique is too harsh. The book isn’t poorly written and it was a great way to spend a summer afternoon, but for one of Ellis’s biggest fans it was a massive disappointment.
So, while I don’t necessarily endorse this book as a jumping off point for your Bret Easton Ellis fandom, I urge everyone who hasn’t already to read his other novels.
Then, once you’ve seen what he’s actually capable of, pick up Imperial Bedrooms and just enjoy the fact that you get to catch up with some interesting characters, even if you don’t like where they’re headed.