Thursday, February 12, 2009

Honourable Mentions: The Informers

Author: Bret Easton Ellis

First Published: 1994

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: In this seductive and chillingly nihilistic new book, Bret Easton Ellis, the author of American Psycho, returns to Los Angeles, the city whose moral badlands he portrayed unforgettably in Less Than Zero. The time is the early eighties. The characters go to the same schools and eat at the same restaurants. Their voices enfold us as seamlessly as those of DJ's heard over a car radio. They have sex with the same boys and girls and buy from the same dealers. In short, they are connected in the only way people can be in that city.

Dirk sees his best friend killed in a desert car wreck, then rifles through his pockets for a last joint before the ambulance comes. Cheryl, a wannabe newscaster, chides her future stepdaughter, "You're tan but you don't look happy." Jamie is a clubland carnivore with a taste for human blood. As rendered by Ellis, their interactions compose a chilling, fascinating, and outrageous descent into the abyss beneath L.A.'s gorgeous surfaces

The Mention: I remember reading, many years ago, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and being really taken with the book. I remember laughing at the wickedly black humour and also being strangely unaffected by the more disturbing aspects, simply because I had read the Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, the book before, and after that it didn’t stand a chance in the gross out stakes. That is not to say, however, that it was not an excellent book.

I also remember lending it to a girl who I was seeing at the time and her father picking it up, opening it at random and throwing it in the bin in disgust and her protests that it didn’t belong to her but me and he couldn’t do that to my property. I’d like to think that what he read was the reason he treated me with disdain, but he treated me with disdain before that incident.

All that said, despite rating the book I never got around to reading any more Ellis – and I don’t know why, but do know it is to my shame. The recent filming of this book – more a collection of interrelated short stories, each from the first person perspective of a different character – brought the book into my awareness.

The book itself is marvellous – which is why I feel shame at not having read more of Ellis’ work. It doesn’t have the large amounts of black humour, which American Psycho had, but it is a blackly-cynical voyeuristic tour de force, peeking into the shallow and seedy LA underbelly. Be from the story of four friends at a restaurant one year after the death of a fifth friend, Jamie, and the almost irreverent thoughts of Dirk – who was there at the desert auto-wreck that killed him to Letters From LA, which captures the endemic descent into shallow superficiality of a girl moved to LA from New York (this story mentions vampires living in Woodlands Hill, in passing).

Through the book we get snippets mentioning murders – of people drained of blood and then in the story “The Secrets of Summer” we meet Jamie, who is a vampire – or at least so he believes. Certainly he sleeps in a coffin, he believes a friend was staked and turned to dust and he murders and drains the blood of his victims – young girls, mainly, after/during sex. We also discover that Dirk is a vampire too and has body bags in his home containing his victims – though this is all reported by Jamie who is our narrator through this chapter.

He claims to have “fangs, my horrible transformed mouth, my eyes black, lidless”, but he is not necessarily a reliable narrator and perhaps this is all a psychosis. In the next chapter someone kidnaps a child for ransom but considers selling the child to a vampire he knows.

The vampiric role is small in this and, of course, they are as much, if not more, a metaphor as they are actual killers as they are supernatural creatures. I should mention that, I believe, all mention of vampires have been expunged from the movie and, whilst Brandon Routh was originally cast as Jamie neither he nor the character are listed on the film’s imdb page. The book, on the other hand, thoroughly deserves this mention.

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