ne contributor Hani Fearon dissects the works of Brett Easton Ellis in her first and hopefully not last contribution to Cultured Vultures.
Notable Works: Less than Zero, American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction
For Fans Of: Chuck Palahniuk, Anthony Burgess
For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Brett Easton Ellis is a transgressive American author born in Los Angeles in 1964. Much of Ellis’ work is satire and his novels have often been considered to be nihilistic and sometimes viewed as misogynistic or expressing extreme violence. His novels are usually centred around young, wealthy and often materialistic people oblivious to worlds outside their own.
Ellis wrote his first novel, Less than Zero, at the young age of twenty-one. Through stream-of-consciousness, the novel centres around Clay, who has returned home to Los Angeles during a break from college during the 1980’s. Clay gets back into the party lifestyle which is dominated by sex and drugs, frequently experiencing one night stands with both men and women. He begins to feel alienated and disillusioned in the environment, and watches from the sidelines and witnesses how he and his friends apathetically view each other’s suffering. From witnessing heroin overdose to prostitution and rape, Clay begins to feel isolated in modern society.
Less than Zero was published whilst Ellis was still in college himself and is often critiqued as a nihilistic commentary on the youth culture of the 1980s. Certainly one of my favourite novels by Ellis, this was a very early example of his future work and recurring style.
However, it was Ellis’ third and most successful novel that earned him his reputation of nihilism and ultra-violence. Published in 1991, American Psycho is undoubtedly my favourite novel of all time. It created great controversy both before and after its publication and many petitions to ban the book caused Ellis to be dropped by his publisher. However, the book’s controversy created interest and another publisher soon hooked on.
Set once again in the 80s, American Psycho follows the life of Patrick Bateman, a young and wealthy investment banker. Through first person, Bateman narrates his daily life, from work and musical interests, to encounters with prostitutes and gruesome murders. American Psycho is both graphically and sexually violent, often when the reader least expects it. The narrative may take a while to get into, but the grisly bits soon build up in frequency and at times it can be a rather difficult read.
That’s what I love about it. This may sound rather odd, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I enjoy reading about Bateman’s horrific encounters with prostitutes or the tremendous detail that goes into describing some of his violent acts. What I love about American Psycho is that a book can have that affect. Not a film, not something with photographs, but a book. During one particular scene – let’s say an ‘encounter’ with a homeless man, I found myself feeling nauseous and needing to put the book down. I think it’s remarkable that in this day and age, in a society filled with guts and gore, a book can have that effect on a person. I mean, in comparison, watching the film version starring Christian Bale is like watching Sesame Street. Don’t even get me started on the fact that it was recently adapted into a musical starring Matt Smith. I shudder at the thought of that experience.
It’s not all violence for violence sake though, as with Less than Zero and the other novels that Ellis has written. American Psycho can be seen as a commentary on a materialistic consumer culture obsessed with money, vanity and appearing to conform. With more material in the works, I urge you to give Brett Easton Ellis a read. Less than Zero is a great starting point, along with some of his other titles such as The Rules of Attraction and Lunar Park. American Psycho‘s where it’s at, but perhaps Patrick Bateman is one to warm up to…
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