The narrator of Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park, his 2005 tale of supernatural, Gothic horror, is called Bret Easton Ellis and shares several traits with the novel's author. The narrator provides a summary of the author's career and quotes the opening lines of his novels. But, on the evidence of Lunar Park (in which Patrick Bateman, the serial killer from Ellis's reviled and admired American Psycho, makes a return), the narrator may or may not be the author. Or be him in parts only. It's hard to tell - as it ought to be.
This strain of postmodern game-playing deepens in Ellis's new novel, Imperial Bedrooms. It is a sequel, 25 years on, to his precocious debut, Less Than Zero, a novel in which Ellis chronicled a "wealthy, alienated, sexually ambiguous young man's Christmas break and all the parties he wandered through and all the drugs he consumed and all the boys and girls he had sex with . . ."
Clay, a successful screenwriter and the narrator of this novel, is not the Clay who narrated Less Than Zero. But, like the young man of that first novel, this Clay also returns to Los Angeles for a break. And Imperial Bedrooms, too, details all the parties he wanders through and all the drugs he consumes and all the sex he has.
This is postmodern LA noir, steeped in paranoia, violence and degradation. Clay's obsession with an aspiring actress-cum-hooker, Rain Hunter, provides the narrative engine of the novel. Ellis is also a master of atmosphere, and his long, run-on lines tumble into one another, intercut by staccato dialogue and incidents treated like film jump-cuts.
He is just as good with the details of surfaces; this fascination with veneers enables Ellis to reach and explore the recesses of morally compromised souls. The characters of Imperial Bedrooms are all emotionally void and ethically bankrupt, and Ellis shines an icy light on their cynical, worn-out, disaffected and alienated conditions.
The motif of a billboard with the legend "Disappear Here" written on it occurs in Less Than Zero. It is reprised in Imperial Bedrooms. The most pressing question to which Ellis tries to find an answer in this disturbing novel is why and when human beings begin to lose their soul, and how their humanity starts to disappear, bit by bit.
Bret Easton Ellis
Picador, 256pp, £16.99
Soumya Bhattacharya is the author of the novel "If I Could Tell You" (Tranquebar Press)