Who is Bret Easton Ellis?

Garry Crystal

Brett Easton Ellis is an American author famous for being the voice of Generation X. His first book, published at the age of 23, was translated into 25 languages and made him both famous and wealthy. His fourth book caused one of the biggest controversies in the literary world.

Bret Easton Ellis was born in Los Angeles and wrote his first novel about characters living in the city.
Bret Easton Ellis was born in Los Angeles and wrote his first novel about characters living in the city.

Brett Easton Ellis was born in Los Angeles in 1964. His father, a successful property developer, has been the catalyst for much of his writing. Much of Ellis’ writing is seen by some as a therapeutic way of excising his demons.

His first novel was Less Than Zero, published in 1985, the story of a group of superficial characters in Los Angeles whose main preoccupations are substance abuse and sex in a society that is devoid of meaning. It became an instant hit and was seen by many as a positive deconstruction of the nihilistic 80s.

The book was written in a sparse, minimalist style. This is one of Ellis’ strengths, the ability to address important themes about society in a simplified style. His style has been much imitated, but rarely bettered. While coming across as writer who merely observes and reports, he is actually a very moralistic author.

Moralistic was not a term used by many people on the publication of Ellis' fourth book. American Psycho, published in 1991, was widely denounced for its misogynistic content. Ellis used black humor to tell the tale of a serial killing stockbroker at large in 80s New York. Many people took exception to the graphic descriptions of murder and sex. The book was in fact another moral stand on a decade that knew the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Original publishers Simon & Schuster lost 300,000 US dollars (USD) when they refused to publish it. Many women’s rights groups held protests against the author and the book. Miles of column inches were written about American Psycho, and the publicity for Ellis was huge. The book became a best seller and brought the author out from the underground.

Ellis has claimed that Patrick Bateman, the insane yuppie in American Psycho, was based on his father. Ellis had unresolved differences with his father. Ellis again used his father as the backdrop to his sixth novel, Lunar Park, published in 2005.

Lunar Park is one of Ellis’ most densely layered books. After the indifferent reception to Glamorama, published in 1998, Lunar Park is seen as a return to form for Ellis. The story cleverly uses Ellis’ own life as a backdrop to a psychological story of father and son relationships, the loss of youth, past sins and guilt. It is a highly original concept that works effectively depending on how the reader relates to the themes.

Brett Easton Ellis is an author who, unlike many, takes huge risks with his writing. American Psycho is the work of an author who pushes boundaries to make a point about the world we live in and its relation to art. As writer Norman Mailer said of Ellis, he is a writer who has forced us to look at intolerable material, and few novels try for that much anymore.

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