Poor little rich kids and yuppie serial killers

Brett Easton Ellis.

Brett Easton Ellis.

BRETT EASTON Ellis was born in Los Angeles in 1964 and can fairly be described as the most controversial contemporary fiction writer this side of Chuck Palahniuck.

His first novel, Less Than Zero, which appeared in 1985, borrows its title from the Elvis Costello song of the same name. It was published when Ellis was just 21 and still a college student.

Less Than Zero is a not very happy story which puts the magnifying glass on the raging nihilism of poor little rich kids in California during the early 1980s, when that state’s former governor, President Ronald Reagan, was busy trying to liberate the rich from the taxes and government interference which had been oppressing them since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a first term president.

It was suddenly OK to be rich again, but, as my grandmother might have said, it didn’t seem to make them any happier, and certainly not if Less Than Zero is anything to go by.

It has the drugs and general darkness one would expect to find in any novel of the LA netherworld, but Ellis takes the reader much further than that to a place where watching a snuff movie is no big deal and a naked 12-year-old girl tied to the leg of a friend’s bed is merely an object of curiosity.

This is what happens, the Left would say, when we abandon the idea of us all being linked together in some kind of society. Others would argue that it’s where we end up when we allow God to die.

In his notorious 1991 novel, American Psycho, Ellis achieves the difficult feat of making the world seem worse than it actually is. The central character, Patrick Bateman, is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and a Wall Street investment banker.

He is 26 and, at the outset, a fairly typical yuppie who likes to spend his evenings in fashionable New York night clubs with his own kind, snorting the white stuff and critiquing fellow club goers’ dress sense.

During the Tiger years most of us would have come across some version of this type, but Bateman then takes things to the next level and becomes a serial killer engaging in an ever increasing orgy of torture, rape, mutilation, cannibalism and necrophilia.

He pauses occasionally to offer the reader his critique of the work of 1980s songsters such as Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston. It does not have a happy ending. American Psycho has been described as “one of the most important novels of the twentieth century”.

Twenty-five years after Less Than Zero was published, Ellis has recently returned to see what time has done to those nihilistic rich kids, who peopled his debut.

His new novel Imperial Bedrooms, which takes its name from an Elvis Costello album, has just been published. His protagonists are mostly still alive and life has delivered them to the awful motorway stopover that is one’s own middle age.

Brett Easton Ellis is a writer in the brutalist tradition of Henry Miller at his best and Louis Ferdinand Celine. He drags things as they sometimes are out into a light so severe, we cannot but face them.

His reading at Hotel Meyrick on Monday July 19 at 6pm, as part of the Galway Arts Festival, is a must-not-miss event for those who don’t believe in happy endings.

Tickets are available from the festival box office, Galway Tourist Office, Forster Street, and www.galwayartsfestival.com

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