“Oh dear oh dear oh dear” – White by Bret Easton Ellis

Oh Bret. Oh Bret. Oh dear oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. There’s a bit of me that would like to leave it at that. Full stop. Go wash my hands. Put it out of my mind. (I imagine that there were people who felt that way after reading American Psycho. Not me. I loved American Psycho. Loved Glamorama. Lunar Park. And, you know, Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, The Informants – obvs.) I know he has a tendency not to win awards (and probably wears that fact like a badge of pride) but I’ve always liked Bret Easton Ellis. I liked his schtick. He made me laugh. He made me gasp. He was a provocateur. There was no bad Bret Easton Ellis book in my book. Until now.

In some (admittedly kindly) lights, this book is the proverbial elephant being touched up by blind men. You can grab the tail and say, hey, a Bret Easton Ellis memoir. I’d read that. And those portions of the book about his childhood, his interest in movies, the books he dug, the glare of fame – they are all interesting things to read about. Another one of those blind men grabs the trunk and feels like he’s got a snarky outpouring of the kind of free speech you’d get on the Ellis podcast. Yeah, he might say, you go girl. There’s not enough of this kind of thing in the world any more. People saying whatever they want just because they can. I’m with you, you might think. I don’t want Chris Martin, I want Iggy Pop. Performers who don’t care how they are perceived. Fuck yeah! U -S -A, U – S – A, U – S – A etc.

But what about the blind man who places his hands upon the sides of the elephant. The blind man who wonders, briefly, for a moment if what he is feeling, uneasily, is a writer complaining unceasingly about millennials and snowflakes and gradually, ever so gradually, embracing a late-blooming reactionary desire to – really? – defend Donald Trump from the onslaught of whiny liberals. Maybe just maybe the blind man turns his eyes to the sky and is gifted with sight, enough sight to see the elephant – and in seeing the elephant he sees that, yes, the tail is a kind of memoir, and the trunk is a snarky outpouring of what a person thinks but, jesus, the complaining is the only thing that matters because boy o boy can Bret Easton Ellis complain and so much of what he says is just bollocks (dismissing Russian interference in the US election with a wave of his hand – you need to read some Luke Turner, Bret).

Despite agreeing with some of what he says (I’m not a fan of cancel culture, I do find the ways in which decade old tweets lose people their jobs to be somewhat puritanical), there is a real problem when it comes to the conclusions he draws. He is very forgiving of the people he used to despise (those poor Republicans) and utterly damning of those people he used to feel an allegiance to (Democrats), despite saying (a number of times) that he doesn’t care about politics (and I suspect that has something to do with how this book has come to be: Ellis is a great schmoozer, many of the tales herein are recounted at the table of one restaurant or another, at which people get upset about Trump doing this or Trump doing that – or in one particularly (sorry) boring story, about the fucking aesthetics of the Black Lives Matter movement – and you just get the impression that Ellis was a bit fed up with all the talk being about anyone but him…).

You read White and you hear about Ellis’ millennial boyfriend and you quickly realise that the boyfriend has come to represent ALL MILLENIALS across the globe and that Ellis’ LA bubble is the world. But the problem with the world is not that a particular generation has got a bit whiny (if indeed they have). In fact, if you were to draw up a list – on which you’d put, say, the fact that social media needs regulating, the fact that large corporations need to pay tax, the fact that crooked politicians who hand their mates multi-billion pound contracts on nothing more than a nod and a wink and probably, you know, need to be held accountable by someone – whiny millennials (or whiny reactionary Generation X-ers for that matter) wouldn’t make the top 10.

Any Cop?: Ellis has said this is one for completists. I’d go further: this is one for Ellis fans who don’t mind being let down by what a reactionary old fart he’s become.

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