Christine Priestly heads to the Athenaeum Theatre to catch a glimpse of the ‘person whom everyone expects to be… well, Patrick Bateman.’ (‘Shrink rapping with Gen-X’ , The Age, August 14, 2010)
I’m not sure what I was expecting from an interview with the author of American Psycho, Less Than Zero, and The Rules of Attraction. It certainly wasn’t a forty-six-year-old confessing to tweeting about Delta Goodrem and chatting to strangers on GRINDR out of sheer hotel-room boredom.
‘Me admitting to liking Delta Goodrem reveals more about me as a writer than anything I say about my writing process,’ Ellis told the audience.
And that was about par for the interview course. For the better part of an hour, Ellis shared with a theatre full of hardcore fans (the Melbourne show sold out in 7 minutes) his thoughts, insights, and generally wrong-town attitudes to life, the universe, Australia’s ‘complicated relationship with Delta Goodrem,’ and why you should never date a writer.
Perhaps not the gruelling self-analysis the audience hoped for, but gripping none-the-less. To be honest the theatre had something of a circus-side-show feel to it as we sat wondering where the interview was headed next. ‘If it comes to mind,’ Ellis said, ‘I will go there.’
Clearly Ellis’s latest book, Imperial Bedrooms, did not come to mind.
‘Latest? I wrote it like nine months ago.’ And I guess that’s what writers and celebrities don’t tell you – about ‘the huge disconnect between writing the book and doing the tour’. But unlike most celebs who dredge up the necessary persona to play the promotional game for their bread-and-butter fans, Ellis makes no secret of his dislike of tours and the intense boredom he experiences doing the PR circuit. Ellis told the audience that if he writes a book and someone happens to read it, that’s great, but he claims to live in relative anonymity and be perfectly okay with that. (Easier said when your craft just happens to pay your bills and then some.)
Ellis’s reluctance to talk about Imperial Bedrooms was a little disappointing, given the event was hosted by the Wheeler Centre in partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival and Readings, and was essentially intended to promote his new work. But I had to ask myself, were the audience really there to hear about Imperial Bedrooms, or were they (like me), there to meet the ‘character’ of Bret Easton Ellis?
I also found myself wondering what sort of individuals would pay to hear Ellis speak? Would the crowd resemble that of a late-night screening of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Astor? Maybe a tad younger and with fewer trench-coats (I’d also say with fewer single-seaters, but the fully-booked theatre may have given a false impression there), and certainly with more female fans than I had anticipated.
Ellis says himself he is always surprised that at every book signing there is one ‘pretty twenty-five-year-old holding a copy of American Psycho whispering that it taught her to masturbate at age fourteen.’
That the interview was conducted by Alan Brough was another plus. After Ellis’s appearance at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, I was expecting a lot of prickle, which can be quite uncomfortable to watch. ‘I froze in front of the audience at the Byron Bay Writers Festival,’ Ellis said, and then proceeded to blame the interviewer for asking such ‘boring’ questions. I hoped for (and received) a more comfortable ride with Brough as host.
Brough also had to navigate the show-pony crowd and Ellis’s biting retorts. When one audience member asked Ellis a question about how he handled his relative anonymity among post gen-X-ers, Ellis asked how many drinks she’d had. ‘Four, five?’ Like any hard-core Ellis fan, she wasn’t about to put up with that, and promptly informed the writer he was being offensive. The audience shifted in their seats. And there was Brough, stuck in the middle.
When asked where Ellis sees himself in his work, where fact meets fiction, he replied that his writing is ‘emotionally autobiographical’, and added, ‘the best question I was ever asked was, “Why are you so fucked up?”’
I’m not about to delve into what Brough terms ‘the conflation of the character and the writer’ (apart from anything, Ellis would be bored), but the nakedness with which Ellis depicts his lifestyle (not his life), his penchant for making disturbing and outlandish statements, and his general disdain for anything conventional, begs the question: how much is put on, and how much does he really believe?
Note from TL: there’s a video of BEE @ the Wheeler Centre for everyone who couldn’t make it (including me).