Thursday, 15 July 2010

Faye Fornasier reviews the Guardian Book Club with Bret Easton Ellis

The thing about Bret Easton Ellis is that his readers appreciate his work at very different, very personal levels. So last night, at The Guardian Book Club dedicated to American Psycho (that’s right, not his latest novel, Imperial Bedrooms) the atmosphere is electric with anticipation; we’re among real fans, real devotees. When he enters the room and takes a seat on the stage the auditorium is suspended in a ‘should I be clapping / is that really him’ bubble, and only when host John Mullan – UCL professor – introduces him, does everyone start breathing again, breaking into a long, relieved applause.

The evening starts slowly with Mullan’s anecdotal introduction serving as amuse-bouche while Ellis, relaxed in hoodie, jacket and jeans, looks around at the audience, bobbing his head every now and then as if to an inner metronome. When he finally engages, he is funny and generous, he explains how only recently he has been able to admit Patrick Bateman came from a very real place within himself, and represents him much more than the Bret Easton Ellis in Lunar Park, the latter being entirely fictional in his apologetic relation to American Psycho. He tells us – all envious here, I dare to guess – how he writes his novels quite easily, 9 to 5, and never has writer’s block: ‘ writing is never, should never be a struggle, it should be fun!’

He does have ‘a plan’ he admits, from the increasingly surreal meals running parallel to the increasing violence in American Psycho, to the careful mixing and matching of clothes items found in fashion magazines to create outfits which, ‘if you could see them together would look like jesters.’ Lunar Park is another example of a plan well made: Ellis came up with the idea while working on American Psycho but had to withhold it for 15 years as he felt it would only work after he had published more novels and enough time had passed.

With the Q&A Ellis is put to the test. The audience is made of real B.E.E. lovers, each engaging with his work at different levels, and asking rather challenging questions. One woman introduces her question on sexuality with an anecdote of her being caught masturbating while reading American Psycho by her grandmother, who then demanded to read it herself. Another, who ‘studied him’ at university, asked a question she had been wanting to ask since graduating, many years ago.

Faced with literary theory questions, searching the machinations behind his work, he refuses to answer but does so most gracefully, ‘these are all very interesting, very intelligent questions, but I just don’t know the answers.’ He writes because he gets the idea and thinks it would be fun to develop, he says, or to let out strong emotions ‘the world doesn’t necessarily want to hear’, not to anticipate his own literary criticism, to gain status or to compete with himself. He apologises for being disappointing but the audience doesn’t feel that way, proof of it is the amount of hands waving in the air to get the microphone and the long relentless queue to get autographs and photos with their hero – who obliges almost mechanically but with religious dedication.

A hero you won’t be disappointed to meet.

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