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Brett Easton Ellis at the Cheltenham Literary Festival

For a man about to kill himself, Brett Easton Ellis looks disarmingly chipper. He strides onto the stage and takes a seat opposite his interviewer. He looks perfect - just as I had imagined he would look. His sobre suit and shoes are immaculate. He is, perhaps, a little more handsome than I had expected, and as the evening progresses, I decide that he is a little less pretentious than he is generally credited to be.

We are at the The Cheltenham Literary Festival. A prestigious, but criminally under-promoted literary festival which is held here annually. This year, the festival is sponsored by the Times – but in my Saturday Times, I find scant mention of the event. We are told this evening that Zembla have a hand in sponsoring the event, but apart from this mention, Zembla remains invisible here.

The format of the evening is a familiar one. An oleaginous interviewer probes our writer for 40 minutes, our writer reads a passage from his new product, and then we, the audience, are invited to shout questions from our pit. Much of the interview concerns the new novel, Lunar Park, which has been hailed by some as a return to form. The book is a postmodern take on the horror genre. It tells the story of a central character, named Brett Easton Ellis; a succesful writer who moves to a haunted suburban mansion with his family.

During the interview, Ellis is funny, intelligent, open and often uncomfortable. He talks about his success, his hedonism, and his father. He eloquently expresses his ideas about a central theme of the book – truth. In part, he confides, the book is autobiographical. The interview challenges him on this:

-         How much is true? The sex and drugs?
-         True
-         That you wore a suit of your Father’s, and discovered blood stains at the crotch?
-         Also true.

But Ellis also concedes that the claim that “everything within this book is true” is a conceit, born of a love of horror fiction and (more worryingly) Steven King. If Ellis is reading a book, he wants to believe it is true, otherwise, what’s the point?

What else do we learn from the evening? That most of his friends are writers, that he is still boiling angry about his father’s death, that Jay McInernay was hated the portrayal of himself in Lunar Park, that Ellis is currently planning a sequel to Less than Zero, and that dobermans will not perform an act of cunnilingus on an adult female.

Following a reading of the beginning few pages of the novel, the audience are invited to interrogate. A man in his thirties asks what makes Ellis angry now. The same things, he waves, a feeling that products and possessions will in some way make our lives more valid. “Are you happy now?” Interupts the interviewer. “No. No, to be perfectly honest, I’m not”.

“Are you planning to go the way Hunter S. did, and blow your brains out with a shotgun?” asks another audience member. “No! No, no. Just because I said I was unhappy, I’m not… I’m not planning to kill myself.” A pause, then: “Not yet.”

The Cheltenham Literary Festival continues until Friday14th October. Lunar Park is available now.

 

-- Christian Stretton (12/10/2005)

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