Glamorama - Bret Easton Ellis

I've heard people complain about how difficult it is to read 'Vanity Fair' with its numerous references to the culture and politics of the early 19th century, but Thackeray has nothing on Ellis. 'Glamorama' threatens to be impenetrable in five years.

The book is saturated with the names of the famous and pseudo-famous, song lyrics and artists, name brands and soft drinks; so much so that it puts 'American Psycho's Patrick Bateman to shame. Ellis appeared to be ahead of the curve here again and producing a novel that might just trap unwary readers into hours of wiki-surfing in order to refresh themselves on just who Skeet Ulrich is. But, fear not, Bijou Phillips and Antony Sabato jr. can be exchanged for Kat Dennings and Channing Tatum; Marky Mark, Matthew Fox (!) and Tyra Banks can be re-contextualized; Snapples can become Vitamin Waters. It may not be as cool to open Victor Ward's club with Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" as Matthew Sweet's "Sick of Myself", but you must remember that it's all window dressing.

The idea that our celebrity consumer culture is vapid and soul-killing is not most original idea perhaps but I thought Ellis' use of the perfectly stupid Victor Ward as the centerpiece of this conspiracy thriller Operation Runway (or should I say House of Style?) mash-up is inspired. Bateman focused on the trappings of material success as a method of blending in. 'Glamorama's Victor Ward does so in order to stand out. He doesn't seem to be in on the joke of how interchangeable and replaceable it all is.

Ward communicates via song lyrics and a proto-bro jargon that is pretty spot-on. He seems a little too homophobic for a bisexual individual in the fashion industry, but he's probably just that thick. It's hard to tell because we are rarely allowed inside that pretty little head of his. The other characters, Jaime Fields, Bobby Hughes, Lauren Hynde and the borrowed-from-Jay-McInerney-but-essentially-Ellis' Alison Poole, while more intelligent (not a hard feat), are just as emotionally and motivation-ally ambiguous.

I've enjoyed all of Ellis' novels, and this one is no exception, but definitely be prepared to sift through all of the aforementioned pop culture name drops and numbingly pornographic sex scenes and brutal terrorist acts. It does all come together nicely by the end, though Ellis could learn a thing or two about plotting from the espionage thriller giants he's riffing off of here.