Theatre review: Blind Date @ The Charing Cross Theatre

Going on the title and the poster alone, I wasn’t sold. Going on blind dates is insane enough, let alone watching a show about them, surely? But when a chum kindly invited me along, I did a bit of reading round, and was intrigued. Blind Date is a show conceived by comedian/actress Rebecca Northan, which revolves around the structure of a blind date played out in front of a voracious audience. The difference? The blind date is plucked from the audience, minutes before the show starts.

Improv is a sticky game, to mix my metaphors. By its very nature, it can’t be predicted, nailed down, or neatly defined. At uni, I came across the work of a theatre group called Improbable, who frequently improvised sections of their shows around the life stories of audience members. That was one thing, but this show was going to rely hugely on the charm and watchability of the poor chap chosen to be the male lead for the night.

So let’s backtrack a minute. As the lights come up on the stage, we meet Mimi (Northan) for the first time, as she sips nervously at her red wine, waiting for a date who never turns up. It’s a drizzly Wednesday evening with a typical London crowd, and we’re watching a woman with a ‘joke’ red nose perched ludicrously on her face. No one is sure what to expect, but what we do know is that we’re going to make her work hard for this.

Thing is, you fall for Mimi almost straight away. Northan’s been touring this show for years, and you can tell. It’s a masterclass in improv and how to handle a rather nervous member of the audience who is desperate to impress the 200 people watching him…And that was where the problem came. Northan was perfect, delightful, and hilarious. Her date, plucked from the cosy embrace of the plush velvet seats, was not. In fact, he was downright irritating, slightly drunk, very sweary, and occasionally offensive. His date, in the audience, was also very much ‘over-refreshed’ and vocal….

It was a unique experience, hugely entertaining, quite wince-inducing at times, and all in all was quite like a real first date! Northan is a tremendous talent and it’s worth seeing it just for her. The concept is a thrilling one, and the ‘anything could happen’ atmosphere is electrifying. Go, see, be entertained, be horrified, be charmed. Blind Date runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until the 29th June.

Q&A: Books

I spotted this Q&A on Stephanie Pomfrett’s lovely blog here, and very much enjoyed reading it. I love having a voyeuristic peer into the bookshelves of others, and I decided that I’d fill in my own, so here you go…

What are you reading right now?

I picked up On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan earlier this morning and finished it today (it’s only a novella, I’m not some wunderkind), and I’m rereading Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. I’ve also just scooped Other People by Martin Amis from the bookshelf, because the cover is hilariously tacky. And I love Martin Amis.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read after you’ve finished this book?

I’d quite like to read something a little more recent. I rarely buy new releases, instead turning to the very well-stocked bookshelves belonging to my parents which are crammed full of dusty classics. That being said, I’ve promised to read Seth Rodin’s Purple Cow, about marketing strategies. I’m keen also to read The Dud Avocado, which is in a similar vein to Nancy Mitford and Dodie Smith. Oh, and I’ve just spotted Death and the Penguin, which a friend gave me to read years ago, and which I think it might finally be time for.

Five books you’ve always wanted to read but have never got round to?

Pretty much every book on my reading list for my English degree. I KID. Of course I read those. Most of them. Ok, here goes:

  1. Anything heavy duty and Russian
  2. Sophie’s World, which I have on my bookshelf but made me wildly depressed when I attempted to read it aged 12.
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. I bought it last year but it just perches on my shelf looking so…worthy, and I’m never in the mood for it
  4. The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, all about the first convicts being taken over to Australia and what their experience was like.
  5. Ulysses by James Joyce. I tried, OH GOD, I tried. But I couldn’t hack it. It’s a feat of endurance that I want to achieve one day.

crime-and-punishment

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?

Facetious answer: I don’t keep magazines in either of those rooms. Normal answer: plenty of Vogues, a Lula, probably a Dash, a bumper issue of Pop, various Sunday Times Style magazines, the Royal Society of Literature magazine which I haven’t even taken out of the wrapper yet.

What’s the worst book you ever read?

Tough question. I’ve read some Tom Wolfe which I found utterly repulsive and completely fascinating in equal measure. I’m sure I’ve read some abominations, probably in the ‘chick lit’ category which I tend to steer clear of. OH! Bridget Jones. I hated it with every fibre of my being and yet read the whole thing in a matter of hours at a friend’s house. Ghastly book.

What book is really popular but you really hated?

Oh man. I don’t know, I went through this stage of despising Jane Austen and breaking the heart of my English teacher when I loudly declared my hatred during class. I think Bridget Jones, from above, can also be added to this list. I’m getting cross just thinking about it. Grr, JONES *shakes fist*.

Bridget Jones

What’s the one book you recommend to everybody?

Ah, god, there’s no way I can choose just one. If you need to sort your life out, read Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy. If you need to FEEL, read One Day. If you want to be an actor, read What’s My Motivation by Michael Simkins, and hopefully it’ll put you off. And for the love of literature, please read Atonement, which is an entirely perfect book.

What are your three favourite poems?

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, i like your body by e.e.cummings, Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning.

Where do you usually get your books?

I steal many from my dad. I also get them from the library, often charity shops or second hand bookshops. I rarely ever get them full price in ‘normal’ shops, and I never, EVER buy them for my iPhone. Kindles are an abomination.

Hall's-bookshop

Where do you usually read your books?

Mostly in bed, late at night or early in the morning. Often in the bath, because I like how crinkly it makes the pages. On the train, when I’m feeling smug about what I’m reading.

When you were little, did you have any reading habits?

We used to live in Ascot during the week and travel back to our house in Sussex at the weekends, so I used to read on journeys home. Inevitably this was near the end of the day when the light was fading, so needless to say I thoroughly wrecked my eyes. I also liked to devour books in one go.

What’s the last book you stayed up half the night to read?

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. It’s a fairly hefty chunk of book, and there’s quite a dramatic turn around the halfway point. I tried putting it down but my brain was in shock, desperately trying to decipher what was going on. I lasted around fifteen minutes before I picked it up again and read through til about 4 or 5 am.

Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?

Of course! I did this far, far too much during my English degree. ‘Duh, it’s like a famous quote’ ‘Where from?’ ‘Cliff’s Notes’.

th

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?

Oh, I’m positive I have. Fairly recently, I organised my bookshelves into colour order, so that now plays a part in my choice of new books. ‘That looks interesting’, I’ll think, ‘but I’m really looking for something more in a green colour.’ I’m a philistine. There are some fantastic covers of Lolita which I’d like to get my hands on (appropriate turn of phrase?!), and I recently repurchased a newer version of American Psycho to fit with my other neon hued Easton Ellis books.

lolita4

What was your favourite book as a child?

The standards, Roald Dahl, Ballet Shoes, anything about boarding schools. Oh, and I adored Horrible Histories. OH, and Just William, far and beyond anything else. Just William was my bible. I also liked reading all the Blandings stories, because Lord Emsworth was a hero, and I found the constant talk of ‘fat pig contests’ endlessly charming and hilarious. Kingdom by the Sea was a brilliant war-era novel. And finally, on a different note, there was a book I liked called No Roses for Harry about a little dog in a jumper. Quality stuff.

Which book changed your life?

Lolita, which I read far too early, but which taught me so much about the art of novel writing. Nabokov writes in a way that makes the reader almost begin to encourage Humbert Humbert in his awful plans. He’s a thoroughly compelling villain. It changed my concept of what a good book should be, stuck in my brain and reverberated there long after I’d put it down.
I also read Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ at the age of around 11-12, which changed my life in the sense that it made me a precocious little twit. And it probably also caused me to develop some deep rooted psychoses which I’ll no doubt uncover later in life

Who are your top five favourite authors?

You can probably already gather most from my answers, but these, in no particular order:

  1. Ian McEwan
  2. Bret Easton Ellis
  3. P.G. Wodehouse
  4. Jonathan Coe
  5. Evelyn Waugh

What is your favourite classic book?

I actually love Frankenstein, even though I know it’s not what some might be considered to be a classic book. Despite the Boris Karloff associations many have, the story highlights some eternally relevant themes about what it means to be different, an ‘other’, as well as issues about paternity, responsibility, and what happens if the concept of God is replaced in society. Oh, and it’s got some pretty decent horror too.

Five notable mentions?

  1. Thinks…by David Lodge
  2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  3. My Booky Wook by Russell Brand – don’t judge until you’ve read it
  4. Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series
  5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Glyndebourne: The Marriage of Figaro

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited to Glyndebourne by my friend Sophie and her parents. I was invited about a week before the event, which meant only one thing: FULL BLOWN DRESS PANIC. It was a long time since I’d been to Glyndebourne: so long in fact, that my mother had dressed me that last time. But this time, the responsibility was all my own. I did some frantic Google searching, checking the Glyndebourne website and various blogs about how to dress. Most advised that while evening dress was not compulsory, it was advised.

Now, I’m one of those girls who buys things on a whim and then finds the occasion for it later. ‘Dress for the life you want, not the life you have’, someone once told me. That never meant much to me purely because I tend to wear whatever I like, and to hell with the consequences, but for once it seemed to come true. Suddenly I knew what I had to wear. Last year, in a fit of Summer madness and fabric inspired lust, I’d picked up a charming lavender, Grecian style Alberta Ferretti evening gown from Love is Boutique in Tunbridge Wells. It had been obscenely expensive originally, but I got it at a much more reasonable price; although still enough to force me to eat noodles until my next paycheck came through. It didn’t matter though, because I fell truly in love with it. Despite working in the fashion industry, it’s very rate that I feel something for a garment like that, but this was different.

Enough about the dress though! We had the most glorious weather as we headed down towards Lewes; the sun beating down through the car windows. We were well equipped with a picnic, chairs and table, but intended to go for some afternoon tea first and foremost. Quite right, I say. We wove our way through verdant gardens and wildflowers taller than me, set up our table and popped off for an absolutely corking tea. I’m a huge advocate of afternoon tea, and this was a proper one: finger sandwiches, scones, tiny cakes. Perfect! After tea, we wandered around the lake and through the impossibly beautiful grounds before heading inside to our seats.

It’s strange – I’ll happily sit down and listen to hours of Bach or Vivaldi, but I’ve always avoided opera. I suspect this is because my parents used to drag me to the opera when I was very small, and frequently used to play it around the house. I needed to find my own way to it. From the start of ‘Figaro’ I was enchanted. This ‘Figaro’ was loosely set in the sixties (perfect!) and directed by Michael Grandage (even ‘perfecter’!) I’ve loved Grandage since seeing a production of Schiller’s Don Carlos he directed, and also Ivanov with Kenneth Branagh a couple of years ago. ‘Figaro’ was a wonderful production – slick and funny and fast-paced. It’s a well known fact that I have the most appalling attention span: too much time ‘triple-screening’ with TV, my Mac and my iPhone has meant I can’t concentrate on anything, and yet the opera whizzed by. I didn’t check the time once, and was devastated when it came to an end!

All in all, it was the most glorious day. I adore the fact that this bastion of Englishness still exists, and that here is a place I can go where people still dress smartly and take afternoon tea. Glyndebourne during the Festival is a truly perfect experience, and whether I have to beg, borrow or steal a ticket next year, I shall try my best to go again. In the meantime, I’m going  to put Bach on the backburner (Bach-burner?! Geddit?!) and guess what? I’m going to start listening to some opera.

Olympics: Cycling Time Trials

While this might be my first blog post on the Olympics, rest assured that I’ve been absolutely glued to the screen. I’m completely swept up in Olympics fever and I’m not ashamed to admit it! I spend most of the day balancing my work schedule around hopping between the Olympics channels in a way that maximises my viewing. Every night before bed, I sit down with my Olympics app and schedule reminders for every event I’m planning on watching for the next day.

Whilst I’m very much enjoying watching it from my sofa, I can’t help wishing I could get involved a little more. My dad has been volunteering, and has endless stories about what’s going on at the park, how close he’s been sitting to David Cameron, and all the intricate rules of handball. So it was determination that my friend India and I made plans to find a live site in Surrey and watch the cycling time trials in easy reach of both the road and a big screen.

We headed to the village green at Esher, armed with wellies and macs and Waitrose picnics. Yes, that sentence was pure middle class porn. We got there quite early, desperate to stake our place at the front of the barriers. We were in luck – we arrived just in enough time to secure a perfect place, right next to the road and still with a great view of the screen.

The atmosphere was incredible. The green soon filled up; people waved flags and homemade banners, popped champagne corks, set up folding chairs. We struck up a conversation with some friendly Aussies (I’ve never actually met an unfriendly Aussie, I have to say…) We all cheered as the British women earned us our first gold medal, and then we got in place to watch the cyclists.

Unlike the road cycling at the weekend, the time trials meant that we saw a single rider every couple of minutes, instead of watching the whole pack go by in a matter of seconds. Every rider got a big cheer, but obviously Pooley, Armitstead, Froome and Wiggins sent the crowd into paroxysms of applause.  After we’d seen the last of the riders, we settled down to see the race finish on the big screen.

I loved every second of it. The tension in the crowd, the enthusiastic cheering, the gasps of horror as the signal went on the TV, the flag-waving, the fake sideburns in honour of Wiggo, the boos that echoed round the crowd when some lunatic switched Jamie Oliver on instead…It made me proud to be British.

Roughly a year ago, I sat up most of the night, watching on TV and refreshing Twitter as the riots tore through our beautiful capital. I’d never felt so ashamed of the young people in this country, or so certain that this was it – Britain was tearing itself apart, and I wasn’t sure if we could even hope to recover. Now, in 2012, I’m unbelievably proud of this country. Rising up to stand for the national anthem in a group of people who were singing along, as Wiggins was presented with his gold, made me feel certain that things were more than alright. They were good. Once again, I’m proud to call England my home, and the Olympics is hugely to thank for that.

Snow Day

I hate being bored, don’t you? In the back of my head, I can hear the echoes of the phrase ‘only boring people get bored!’ Well. Sometimes interesting people need a break from all of their exhausting and creative pursuits, and would rather like a bit of time off. Sometimes, the most fascinating creatures among us get stuck in the house, due to…oh, I don’t know. Snow?

And so it was yesterday. Trapped in the house! I elected to start a roaring log fire, put the original St Trinian’s on, and try and loll about a bit. I haven’t been used to taking weekends off lately, so I find that my brain is still running and my hands are fidgeting, and I generally want to do something. A lot of the time, I find it easier to relax by doing something that isn’t related to my work, or is utterly pointless but thoroughly enjoyable. For a start, I decided I’d wake myself up by going out into the snow with bare feet. I’ve never done that before in my life, and I’m not sure why I did yesterday. A combination of supreme boredom caused by the endless similar ‘snowy scene’ photos that appeared all over the net, and the fact that it was going to take me ages to get socks and shoes on. Anyway, I highly recommend it, and here’s the proof I did it:

I saw the comedian Josie Long do a brilliant stand-up show a few years ago, where she talked about all the things people put a huge amount of effort in to, but which don’t actually make any difference to life whatsoever. The show was called ‘Trying is Good’, and Josie pulled together a bunch of examples of the aforementioned ‘tiny things’ that people devote their time to. She handed out little hand-drawn booklets to all of the audience, and later in the show she passed around sweets and oranges for people who were particularly lovely. I was charmed by the show – she also mentioned how at the Edinburgh Festival, she would make badges for all the audience members on a daily basis, as well as sticking packs of sweets to the bottom of chairs as a nice little surprise. One of my tutors at uni, who’d been working at Edinburgh that year, told us that Josie held a month long Boggle championship over the course of the festival, challenging everyone to games between shows.

I unashamedly love that sort of thing. We get so caught up in only doing things that are important and that will drive us forwards in life, that we rarely ever spend time on something silly and purely for enjoyment purposes. Well, I’m a big fan of doing little thing just for the sake of it. That’s why I bought myself a 24 pack of Sharpie pens, despite having no practical use for them whatsoever. One of my February challenges was to make a stop motion animation, and I decided yesterday would be perfect to give it a shot. I’ve never done anything like that in my life before, and it was a big process of trial and error. For my ‘final’ piece, I shot about 200 frames, editing it together using the amazing free JellyCam software, and the result is below. It’s so far from perfect, or even being any good, but it was my first time! And I’m going to try some more (better) stuff in future. Hope you enjoy!

Dead Wood: The Future of Magazines

On Tuesday night, I whipped myself off back to the metropolis for a talk at the V&A, named, rather ominously, ‘Dead wood: The Future of Magazines’. There were four speakers: Lucy Scott and Tina Smith of ‘Lost in London‘ magazine, Steve Watson of Stack Magazines, and Alan Rutter, journalist, writer and web entrepreneur.

Due to the name of the event, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I care passionately about the fate of magazines, not just because I’m hoping my future career will involve a healthy dose of magazine writing, but also because I adore reading them. I don’t think reading on my iPhone, laptop, or on a tablet could ever replace that feeling of a physical object, an object with a distinct texture and smell…I love to engage fully with my magazines. I fold pages over, draw on them, often rip things out to plaster on my walls, or for inspiration when I’m designing.

Reading a digital publication inspires no joy whatsoever in me. I struggle to read, I get distracted, I click off and back onto Facebook…It just simply doesn’t work for me. Those are my opinions, the opinions of a long term magazine reader, but not someone who has had a great deal of direct contact with the industry. I was intrigued to hear what the various speakers would have to say on the subject, so without further ado, I’ll tell you a little bit about what I learnt:

Lucy Scott and Tina Smith

These two lovely ladies have founded their own quarterly magazine called ‘Lost in London’. The ethos is delightful: a beautifully curated magazine created for those who are looking for a little bit of pastoral charm in our teeming metropolis. I grew up both in Sussex and Surrey (well, Ascot in Berkshire, but…you know) and have always been surrounded by nature, parks, and general loveliness. When I look back on my childhood, I genuinely see fields of long grass at dusk, doing maths homework and playing football on the huge lawns outside my old house, ‘nature expeditions’ during school days, Natural Trust properties, cream teas…Even while I was at uni, I rediscovered a love of exploring nature and climbing trees.

I’d always wondered how to align my love of the countryside with my adoration of London. ‘Lost in London’ features photos and text centred on ‘portraying the city’s hidden charms and rustic character, as London based artists provide a visual response to the city.’ A wonderful idea, and well-executed. So that was the publication, but what did the co-producers have to say about the future of magazines, and their experience in the industry?

Obviously, we’re talking about independent magazines here. The general consensus is that, say, ‘Vogue’ will be around millions of years in the future. But what about the creative, artistic, advertising-free smaller magazines? Tina and Lucy started off working at Property Week, and found that their ideas on what made a good magazine meshed. To cut a medium-sized story short, they launched ‘Lost in London’. They told us that when they launched, they didn’t view it as a business, or anything that would make them money. They decided to stay true to their creative ideals, eschew any advertising, and keep it purely their magazine.

Tina and Lucy were realistic about the implications of this. The magazine industry is more or less run on advertising (yesterday I almost put my back out trying to lift up the March edition of Vogue…embarrassing), so I love the fact that many of these small publications are avoiding the mighty hammer of advertising and carving out their own way. Of course, financially, this makes the difference between a profitable magazine and a piece of art. Tina and Lucy commented that they ‘just about broke even’ on their project.

Not ideal if you’re looking to make your new publication your primary career – Tina and Lucy both work other jobs, ploughing all of their spare time into ‘Lost in London’, but they’ve created something they can truly be proud of. They have not compromised on any part of their project. Everything contained inside is real, true, and beautiful, and I believe they have achieved what they set out to do.

You can buy ‘Lost in London’ from http://lostinlondon.bigcartel.com/, as well as a variety of stockists around the city, including Selfridges. You can also ‘Like’ them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter

Steve Watson

Steve is something of a magazine maverick. He has founded ‘Stack’, a magazine subscription service which implements a ‘lucky dip’ mentality, meaning you get an absolutely corking independent magazine sent to your door every month. In the first few minutes of his talk, I’d scribbled down some fantastic sounding titles, which on further Googling, have very much, erm, tickled my fancy. Steve was strongly of the belief that print is NOT dead.

He lamented the fact that it’s extremely difficult to locate independent magazines – especially since Borders closed down. Incidentally, I actually read this week that Paperchase are due to start stocking indie titles, which is VERY exciting news. Steve also stated that he believed money can be made from magazines. Like the ‘Lost in London’ creators, he also commented on the fact that the idea is the key thing. Settle on a good concept, because ultimately this will keep you going. The idea is what people will latch on to, and will make them subscribe.

Steve explained how print media should be about providing what digital media simply can’t do. He exemplified this through talking about ‘Delayed Gratification’ magazine, where the last three months of news are reviewed, using a combination of interviews with those involved, and the oh so ubiquitous infographics. He also mentioned ‘Address’, which looks set to be my new favourite magazine, featuring a more ‘academic’ look at fashion. Steve liked the idea of someone thinking ‘I can’t possibly be in a world where this thing doesn’t exist’.

Steve recently worked on a project called ‘The Good Times’ for The Church of London, which involved pulling together an utterly optimistic newspaper and distributing it on the day that “experts” (not actual experts) had decreed as “the most depressing day of the year”. Coincidentally, that was my birthday, so I’m glad someone was doing something positive. I strongly recommend you get yourself a subscription to Stack: http://www.stackmagazines.com/, and also watch the video below:

Alan Rutter

Last up was Alan Rutter, journalist, start-up founder and digital consultant. He has recently worked at Condé Nast as iPad projects manager, so was obviously coming at the topic from a different angle. (That being said, all speakers did value the power of digital!) He discussed the important things to consider in terms of making a magazine tablet friendly: a certain degree of interactivity, combinations of image and text, and making it readable offline – after all, many readers will have their tablets fired up on the tube.

Alan described a magazine as ‘a curated collection of stories’, as opposed to being a tangible object. For this reason, he believed that a digital incarnation of a magazine was of equal artistic merit, as long as it was carefully designed. He commented that books and magazines are finite, but the web is not. Interestingly, he also discussed how a magazine is an ‘object’, and yet, when you read a magazine on a tablet, the tablet becomes the object.

Alan also talked about financial matters, and how producing a digital publication might not necessarily mean costs were lower. For example, you might need to pay for good content, and Apple will take 30% if you run it through them. Equally, there are the issues of huge competition, and discoverability. Alan recommended learning HTML5, if you’re a developer, as this will ensure your digital publication can work across any screen.

Ultimately, he commented ‘People do want something finite, that’s been curated for them’, and he believes print and digital should be able to sit side by side. Visit Alan’s site here: http://www.alanrutter.com/

My thoughts

Days on from the talk, and I’m still turning it over in my head. I hadn’t been expecting more of a discussion on integrity and the nature of art – I just thought we were going to be told that magazines were dying – dead, even, and that we should all forget about the dream of working on one. Instead, it was a celebration of the independent magazine ideal. From that one evening, I now have a long list of new magazines to read, and renewed hope for the future.

I learnt so much in those two hours than I’m still processing it. It isn’t just the wonderful revelation that there are still print-junkies out there, but also the idea of a world where adverts don’t form 60-70% of publications (it’s probably more, actually). A world where a group of people created a positive news only newspaper and circulated it on “the most depressing day of the year”. A world where Londoners go around seeking the rustic parts of the city, and taking beautifully judged photos…to say I’m inspired is an understatement. My poor little exhausted and increasingly cynical heart had become very heavy, and that weight is lifting, thanks to the wonderful speakers, and the V&A.

So, in the meantime, let’s all go and read an independent magazine, shall we? How about subscribing to Stack? Put down that mainstream magazine you’re clutching, just for a month, and try something new. Go and sniff a magazine. Get a paper cut. And above all, don’t give up hope.

Book Review #2: Imperial Bedrooms

“They had made a movie about us.”

I can’t quite remember at what age I first became aware of Bret Easton Ellis. What I can remember is reading American Psycho on a train late at night, then standing in a near-empty station and squinting suspiciously at every around me. I was completely on edge, paranoid, jittery, and somewhat terrified. Something about that book, and Bateman’s character, manages to leach into your soul. Reading it in public made me feel like it was me having those psychotic thoughts, that I myself was dangerous, and dark. It was a peculiar feeling. And even though there are passages of American Psycho that I can barely make it through, it’s one of my favourite books.

I’d always meant to read more of Ellis, but put it out of my mind until I started seeing the most remarkably well read boyfriend I’ve probably ever had. He’d read (and enjoyed) infinitely more books than I had, despite my English degree, and he lent me a copy of Glamorama. I have to say, I found it harder to plough through, but his sheer enthusiasm for Ellis and the surreal, spinning worlds he creates made me keep trying. Glamorama was long and winding (like some sort of road that the Beatles would have sung about), and I eventually admitted defeat.

I’d just been reading that they’re doing a remake of American Psycho, and I suppose that lodged in my brain when I took myself down to the bookshop, where I swiftly nabbed the neon bright Imperial Bedrooms, Ellis’s comeback novel. I had purposefully not read any reviews, and therefore I managed to overlook the fact that this is a sequel to Less Than Zero. I muddled on all the same. It was typical Ellis – no chapters, just ‘passages’. Marathon sentences that made the reader feel slightly manic, due to the sheer volume of words. His writing is a fascinating study on the effect structure alone has on the reader. Simply by writing these endless sentences, one becomes drawn in to the narrator’s fragile state of mind, just as paranoid and sweating as the protagonist themselves.

Less Than Zero

The novel starts with the line ‘They had made a movie about us.’ And in one fell swoop, Ellis manages to dislodge the sticky remnants of the Hollywood film of Less Than Zero, an adaptation which notoriously strayed from the original novel and plonked some heavy duty moral lessons onto Ellis’s emotional wasteland. Thusly, Ellis can explain away the death of Julian neatly in a masterstroke of meta-narrative.

I knew what to expect from reading his previous works, and the style in Bedrooms was not, largely, different. Unflinching, unemotional descriptions of the most brutal violence punctuated with song titles, liquor brands, ‘hot’ restaurants. Obviously the constant references to ‘culture’ and ‘things’ are one of the keystones to Ellis’s work, and help not only to contextualize the work, but to construct the lens through which his characters view the world.

This was done to much better effect in American Psycho, where the infamous lengthy description of Patrick Bateman’s business cards sat alongside passages about the murder of prostitutes. American Psycho worked for me, and many others, due to the sheer volume of description relating to speakers, or exercise regimes, or Bateman’s grooming habits. As the book rattled to a close, these descriptions became increasingly interspersed with the violent passages. This set Bateman as an extraordinarily unhinged character, but also provided comedy. It was ludicrous and obscene how Bateman would involve us in an episode involving some prostitutes, a chainsaw and a rat, before discussing a new restaurant. (That’s a generalisation, forgive me if I’ve remembered incorrectly.)

But back to Bedrooms. The novel is alarmingly slim, which means you ratchet straight into protagonist Clay’s return to LA, and his rapid descent into hell. Ellis draws LA as the Gomorrah of the modern world, full of people disfigured by surgery, drug addicts, prostitutes, and those lacking even the word ‘moral’ from their vocabularies. LA is almost the main character, and while the novel implies Clay had been leading a relatively sane life in New York, his return to the place captures him like a cancer. It isn’t long before he’s embroiled with a young beautiful actress – although this being LA, she’s already over the hill at 22/23, her beauty is a currency that isn’t enough, and ‘actress’ is a byword for prostitute. How refreshingly 17th Century.

Bret Easton Ellis

Rain, as the “young” “beautiful” “actress” has named herself, is an utterly appalling character with no redeeming features whatsoever. I sometimes wonder if Ellis writes his female characters as either saints or whores, in the old tradition. Rain is most definitely the latter, and you can make your mind up about Blair when you read the little coda on the final page. Much of the novel centres on Clay’s “relationship” with Rain, full of power plays, hate, and Patron Tequila. The voracity and desperation with which Rain pursues the part in a movie Clay has written is somewhat nauseating, purely because it’s most likely rather true to life of a certain breed of young women.

Hollywood is a cruel, vile place in Ellis’s eyes. If you’re too old (i.e. 22!), too ugly and unable to afford the plastic surgery you require, you’re sunk. I managed to comfort myself slightly by thinking he was exaggerating the soulless, skewed aspects of the place, but then I happened to thumb through Glamour magazine to an exposé on how many young actresses in Hollywood are leading double lives, as prostitutes. As per usual in a Bret Easton Ellis novel, I finished with a sour distaste for both modern life and people in general. The most marginal bit of comic relief comes in the form of Rain’s instantaneous turnarounds of emotion as Clay dangles the movie role in front of her. Rain is an empty vessel, we never know what she thinks. But we never know what anyone feels, because of Ellis’s adherence to the minimalist style he is famous for.

Characterwise, he tends to go on describe faces not personalities, leaving the reader unsure of how to gauge certain characters. He has come under immense scrutiny from feminist critics for both the portrayal of women in his body of work, but also for the way they are treated. I personally disagree – Ellis has argued that his writing in fact incriminates men, that his novels are all about the terrible actions of men, which I would agree this. He creates characters in a long line of villains you ultimately want to ‘get away with it. I’d read Lolita at a very early age, and had fallen irrevocably in love with Humbert Humbert. As most readers do, I wanted him to get away with it. I wanted him to achieve his ghoulish desires, and there was no question that I was utterly on his side. See also Iago in Othello.

The novel is plot-driven, unlike some of his other works. I didn’t find it as fresh as his other novels – a strange term to use when describing such a jaded style of writing, but it just lacked the power that, say, American Pyscho had. Perhaps I simply knew what to expect? Those long paranoid descriptions of the protagonist being followed, feeling that everyone was looking at him…ultimately, it didn’t bring anything new to his cannon of work. That said, I think any diehard Bret Easton Ellis fan has been longing to see him tackle the modern celebrity culture, and to explore the endless bounds forward in technology. And true enough, in Bedrooms, iPhones, YouTube, the creeping feeling of social media and technology taking over our lives – these things are all present, and ultimately used to control certain elements within the story.

If you’ve read Less Than Zero, then you could read this as a ‘where they are now’ exercise. Clue: there are no happy endings in Bret Easton Ellis. Or you could read it as a comment on the throbbing, nauseating, ever-churning Hollywood star machine. If you like your chick lit or easy reading, you’ll probably want to drive a million miles in the opposite direction.