Glamorama (Bret Easton Ellis, 1998)


Glamorama, by Bret Easton Ellis (1998).

Score: Insightful and inspired.

TvTropes might want to convince you that Glamorama isn’t really Zoolander played straight, but it is. With a lot of class, just like Easton Ellis has us used to (apparently the issue with the similarities between both was settled out of court so it’s impossible to find out the details now).

The premise is very similar to American Psycho but with models instead of yuppies. Victor Ward is a model wannabe, who dates supermodel Chloe Byrnes, takes advantage of her fortune since he’s nearly broke and cheats on her with Alison Poole. Then he gets offered $300,000 for going to find an ex-girlfriend from Camden in Europe. The first two-thirds are very similar to American Psycho, in the sense that the same plotless scenes come one after the other, so it feels kind of repetitive if you’ve already read the magnum opus. The last third has more of a plot, getting closer to what Lunar Park would be. At first I felt this was just an iteration of American Psycho changing consumerism into a cult to beauty and eternal youth, but it actually gets very compelling as a whole, through the use of very powerful symbols: the confetti everywhere, Victor always being cold, the disembodied lungs that whistle The sunny side of the street, the shit stink. The people that impersonate one another and we never get an explanation for.

The surreal details were easily explained in American Psycho with the fact that Patrick Bateman is an unreliable narrator, but Victor is much more introspective and it doesn’t feel like he wants to impress us. Some people explain the fact that Victor speaks with the crew that is filming the events that he’s living by saying either that he’s schizophrenic or that they’re actually filming a movie of the events but they’re not telling us. I’m not happy with those explanations. The same way you wouldn’t interpret The lord of the rings as Frodo being schizophrenic because neither hobbits, elves or dragons exist, I feel this book is most compelling if you take it “at face value”, or symbolically. Just accept that Victor was speaking to the crew. That there’s confetti everywhere he goes, symbolising the depression and self-consciousness after the sex and drugs binges. That he’s always cold because he’s so thin and weak, and far from home and whatever his true self is. In fact, I’m not going to try and explain the symbols because to do so is to break them. They’re much more powerful when felt by the reader, when the reader fills in the gaps in the space the symbol creates by what the symbol implies to them.

***SPOILERS*** The terrorist organisation run by models makes a very interesting effect, putting together something gruesome and cruel with something that’s usually considered to be naïve, beautiful and essentially brainless. But I find the concept of the faking and disappearing of people and personas even more interesting. Victor is made disappear altogether and substituted with a well-behaved doppelgänger, and at the same time he can’t be sure he’s ever actually met some people. He’s told he was at too many places where he wasn’t to be a case of absent-mindedness. In the same vein as American Psycho, people who stand up to beauty standards all look the same, but this time it goes deeper: the worship of beauty and notoriety annihilates identity, to the point one is diluted and unrecognisable. ***END SPOILERS***

To wrap it up, at first it feels too similar to American Psycho but as a whole it really stands up on its own and is worth reading.

BONUS: A lot of people mention the long lists of celebrities as a feature or something. I’m more surprised by their predictive power: was really XXX already famous in 1998??

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