Glamorama (1998)
By: Julian on October 7, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 482 pages
Glamorama is an odd sort of a book – at worst, a superfluous rehash of many of the themes that author Bret Easton Ellis explored in American Psycho, but at its best it has real moments of real genius – and rest assured, there are quite a few of them. Again, the protagonists of Glamorama are oversexed and over-indulged, coated white with cocaine, and are suddenly thrust into the extreme. And, as usual, Glamorama is filled with Ellis' trademark page-long sentences (no doubt to the chagrin of his old English teachers), punchy dialogue and graphic violence.

Unsatisfied with merely commenting on the fallacies of a generation, Ellis seeks to utterly destroy it from the inside out, accustoming his readers to the lifestyle, then taking relish in making it all crumble to the ground. Glamorama introduces us to Victor Ward, a 27-year-old New York male model. Much like Patrick Bateman, Victor values image above all else – he's a wild socialite and party host dating the gorgeous Chloe, cavorting with A-list celebrities and fretting over the guest list of his next big bash (who'll sit next to who? is a question that will potentially make or break Mr Ward). Victor has an on-again, off-again romance with one of Ellis's recurring characters Alison Poole, who, in one of Glamorama's more hilarious moments, becomes hysterical when one of Victor's jealous girlfriends sticks a sign declaring 'cunt' on her back during a dinner party.

About a hundred and fifty pages into Glamorama, the novel makes a veering change in direction – a shady 'diplomat' F Fred Palakon offers Victor $300,000 and a spin on the QE2 to travel to Europe to meet Jaime, one of the models' ex-girlfriends with some dubious connections. At this point, Glamorama resembles something of a political thriller as Victor becomes embroiled in a terrorist plot.

While Ellis may not necessarily be interested in presenting things how they are, rather his own warped perception on society at its lowest, the author remains a satirist on the knife's edge of the hedonistic culture. Ellis's focus, though, has moved forward a decade, from the 'greed is good', indulged eighties on Wall Street, to the cold, clinical Manhattanites of the ninties. There's a clear transition, but the author paints his satire with broad brushstrokes, commenting on the behaviours of his antagonists and protagonists (really, though, none of them are likeable or sympathetic) in a not too dissimilar fashion to American Psycho. In many ways, this makes Glamorama merely a redux, rather than a fresh new concept. However, there are some things that differentiate the two here:

Esquire commented that in Glamorama, 'wit now dominates'. It's very true – on occasion, Ellis verges on lampooning his subjects, which makes for some very funny moments – Alison's neuroses and some preciously moronic dialogue from Victor and his buddies proof positive of Ellis, the wry comedian. Ellis takes a newfound delight in depicting a sticky social situation to a far greater extent than in American Psycho, and it makes for some thoroughly entertaining reading.

Furthermore, our adversary here is a hard-to-define entity – not an individual, but groups, terrorists, who drag Victor into situations that he couldn't have even imagined. And, perhaps even more abstractedly, Glamorama's baddie could even be an entire way of life – unlike American Psycho where individuals are at the brunt of Ellis' wrath, the author indicts everyone and everything that the pampered younglings that roam the upper crust of the Big Apple represent. The story is far more sprawling and there's something to fear everywhere – perhaps Ellis is just paranoid, but it's a surprisingly (and often scarily) sagacious take on upper-class America in a post-9/11 world (with this book pre-dating that event by three years), with terror threats and DEFCON-1's in every nook and cranny.

Glamorama is also potently violent, Ellis giving sharp and nauseating descriptions in staccato bursts, but it's a tad more detached than his previous grenade in a duck-pond. The sexuality is also typically graphic, but Ellis foregrounds a homoerotic element to the culture in these descriptions, and the culture itself (the book was published seven years before the author made his own bisexuality public).

Ben Stiller's 2001 film Zoolander was noted for its close (some saw it as plagiaristic) similarities to this book. When asked whether he would take legal action, Ellis implied that he had considered doing so but the means would prove costlier than the ends. Roger Avary, who directed the 2002 adaptation of Ellis' novel The Rules of Attraction, was slated to direct Glamorama for the silver screen, with Rules' Kip Pardue as Victor. It was an intriguing project and Ellis was rumoured to have heavy involvement in the scripting. The project was mooted shortly after Rules, and ideas for cast, which included names of the ilk of Casey Affleck, Rose McGowan and Vince Vaughn, were released by 2004. Supposedly, Avary was unable to secure funding and the project was cancelled. Strangely enough, however, a Glamorama film-tie in novel was slated for release on January 5, 2007 – that book is listed as currently unavailable through Amazon.

While Glamorama can be greatly powerful, it also has its fair share of insipid chapters where Victor plays out as a classier version of Patrick, Sean or Clay, which isn't terribly exciting. That said, it's a far sight better than his previous work The Informers, and Ellis's razor-sharp satire and wit shoots the reader a sly wink during the novel's more inspired moments.
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