This isn’t the book you think it is.
You can never quite be sure where Bret Easton Ellis is going to take you with any of his novels. With Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction there’s a mundane acceptance of events that the characters share, drifting through a period of time in life that will define them, even though they themselves don’t dwell on it.
Glamorama lulls you into a false sense of understanding. On the surface there’s the satire of celebrity and fame but, with plenty of down-the-rabbit-hole twists, it takes you and the protagonist Victor Ward on a journey he can neither control nor is fully aware of. Victor may be the most vacant character of the many Ellis has created. Try to tell him this and you’d likely be met with a ‘Spare me, baby. Spare me.’
Leading on from his devil-may-care life in Camden (see The Rules of Attraction), Victor Ward has fashioned a life for himself as a model, actor, social must-have and soon to be club owner. He’s a rising star at a time when rising stars were still something admirable. Just about. He epitomizes the modern celebrity that was truly born in the 90s, the fad that never faded. With his blasé attitude, perfect hair, perfect body, perfect girlfriend and mistress, he’s tabloid fodder but he has to be, that’s what makes him relevant. His journey as a young star-to-be allows him to drift from situation to situation and he’s never fully aware of what’s happening around him; not that he’d care if he did. Unless he’s being impeded, he tends not to take any notice.
When the story begins, a film crew is trying to interview him for the opening of his new club and his associates/friends are trying to guide him into making the best of the publicity, whilst warning him that he’s putting himself in competition with his other ‘friends’.
This is the world that you become immersed in. There’s sex, drugs, parties, celebrities (name dropped like never before) and the first person, present tense narrative makes everything fleeting and arbitrary. This continues when Victor’s world changes suddenly, about half way through the book, when for the first time and without explanation the ‘real life’ events are shown as scripted and filmed. The film crew adjusts lighting and takes, filming for an unknown reason. Victor takes it in all in stride until he starts to become confused as multiple crews and directors take over his life. His safe and happy little world becomes a dangerous adventure that he has less and less control over.
The beautiful and glossy American cities give way to the dark clubs and rural architecture of Europe as Victor becomes a pawn in a game he can’t comprehend. His lack of attention in all the other years of his life mean he’s far, far behind. The more graphic sexual and violent scenes that follow are brutal and shocking but make the story what it is, as the wonderful and the terrible replace the simple good and evil dichotomy.
This may not be the best of Bret Easton Ellis’ works but it is the most enthralling once you get into in. In the beginning you can be forgiven for seeing it as just another tale in Ellis’ style where a fool wanders through the world but it’s the wider world, impacting his avenue of life, that means it’s a story quite unlike the others, part socialite drama, part thriller.