One of my new years resolutions was to read 30 books and post-reviews online. Though I tend to forget my NYE resolutions approximately 23 hours after I make them, I intend to stick to this one both because I want to do a better job of keeping promises to myself and because I love reading, so it is no real task (it may in-fact keep me sane this year).
After some trial-and-error (i.e. partially finishing books, picking books up and putting them back down, buying books and having them disappear into the black-hole that is my bookshelf etc.), my first review-worthy read of the year is Bret Easton Ellis’ fifth novel, The Informers.
At first glance, the book reads much like its 4 predecessors… dark, painfully realistic, and filled with the sort of numb, angry, and vivid characters that populate all of Ellis’ works. And like these characters, there isn’t much going on beneath the surface. That isn’t to say that the book is dull or superficial, it’s just that The Informers does little to disguise its true visage. A New York Times reviewer who is quoted on the dust-cover notes that “The Informers is spare, austere, elegantly designed, telling in detail, cooly ferocious, sardonic in its humor; every vestige of authorial sentiment is expunged”… and he has a point. Indeed the book reads as a straight slinging account of the brutal lives of Los Angeles denizens; tanned, drugged, and for the most part, miserable.
So why should you read this book? Well, first of all, I wouldn’t recommend reading it without first trying to read Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, and Glamorama (in that order). Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction (probably the latter more than the former) are my favourite of his works and if you can’t get through them, you probably haven’t a hope of liking the later efforts. Ellis’ writing becomes increasingly dark and intense and the recurrence of certain characters and themes means that The Informers is best as a continuation of the other works.
Second, the book does offer a lot by-way of scathing social commentary and unflinching insight into the morality and immorality of the 1990s (an era few American authors have so successfully tackled). Think the movie Clueless on crack. Actually, just take all of the characters from that movie, and imagine them on crack.
Finally, I would go so far as to argue that Ellis is a sort of modern John Fante; doing for late 20th Century Los Angeles what Fante did in the 1940s. That is, stripping the city bare.
So, this book of overlapping short stories is not recommended as light-reading but people who have read and been inspired by such authors as Michel Houellebecq, John Fante, and even Kurt Vonnegut may find something here of interest to them.
A quote… because I can:
“On the plane leaving Tokyo I’m sitting alone in back twisting the knobs on Etch-A-Sketch and Roger is next to me singing “Over the Rainbow” straight into my ear, things changing, falling apart, fading, another year, a few more moves, a hard person who doesn’t give a fuck, a boredom so monumental it humbles, arrangements so fleeting made by people you don’t even know that it requires you to lose any sense of reality you might have once acquired, expectations so unreasonable you become superstitious about ever matching them. Roger offers me a joint and I take a drag and stare out the window and I relax for a moment when the lights of Tokyo, which I never realized is an island, vanish from view but this feeling only lasts a moment because Roger is telling me that other lights in other cities, in other countries, on other planets, are coming into view soon.”
― Bret Easton Ellis, The Informers