Bret Easton Ellis has had three movie adaptations made from his novels. There was the disastrous “Less Than Zero”, the explicit and well-received “American Psycho” and the satirical “Rules of Attraction”. Now, another novel of Ellis’s is receiving the Hollywood treatment, and it’s a book all about… well, Hollywood.
Originally a set of interlinked short stories, “The Informers” is about the lives of a number of jaded residents of Los Angeles and its surrounds. There’s the mother who isn’t sure she loves her children anymore, a father who is trying to reconnect with his son a little too late, and a whole dysfunctional family in between.
“The Informers” combines the disillusionment presented in Ellis’s first novel, “Less Than Zero”, with some of the macabre and outlandish details of later work such as “Glamorama” and “American Psycho”. These elements come together to produce a work which may well be Ellis’s most subtly disturbing, especially when its disjointed style leaves readers grasping for a firmer connection with the books characters. Rather than engaging with these people, we must piece together details of their lives as presented in each of the stories, and try to create a coherent picture of just what has caused them to turn out the way they are. Ellis takes his audience on a tour through an ever more frightening world, providing us at every point with tour guides who have seen the route a thousand times before.
Ellis, as usual, does a good job of evoking the mood of a place economically and unsentimentally. He returns to the locale in which his first novel, "Less Than Zero" was set, and describes various areas of the place from the various perspectives of the diverse, yet oh-so-similar, characters. The reader cannot help but be struck by the fact that the characters are having very different experiences of life, but feeling these experiences in much the same way: with a sense of numbness disturbed by occasional, sharp jolts of feeling. As far as the characters themselves go, however, Ellis seems to have missed something here. The lack of sentiment with which the protagonists narrate is not unusal for Ellis - in fact, the opposite is true - but it seems that he may have taken things a step too far this time. It is hard to feel a sympathy for the characters (with a few notable exceptions), and perhaps this is a result of the combination of the literal and figurative sparseness of what we hear from them. Not only do they have little to say in terms of expressing their emotions, but they also have a literally small amount of text allocated to each of their narratives. Perhaps Ellis wants us to feel the way that his characters do: that no real connection is possible, that on the verge of forming an understanding of another person, the interaction ends.
The earlier mention of "notable exceptions" - characters with whom the reader can feel some identification - refers largely to the character of Les Price. The aging father is not particularly likeable: he is homophobic, somewhat lecherous, and continually and annoyingly trying to become a best friend to the son who he seems to have made little effort with for most of their shared life. However, it is difficult not to feel a sympathy for the man as he tries desperately and in vain to find some way of connecting with a son who is clearly lost to him already. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of Ellis's work which is most appealing: every reader is affected by something different, and few will be able to pinpoint just what that something is.
Probably not Bret Easton Ellis's best work, "The Informers" is nevertheless worth a look, especially for those who like to read the book before they see the movie.