Books read in 2014 – 37. The Rules of Attraction – Bret Easton Ellis

 

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Genre: Masculinity, GLBT

Narrative Style: Various first person narratives. Chronological.

Rating 4/5

Publication: 1987

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Paul is in love with Sean but is on the rebound from Mitchell. Sean is in love with Lauren but that doesn’t stop him from going to bed with Paul. Lauren is in love with Victor who is in Europe and not communicating. These are the main voices in Ellis’s novel of disconnection and loneliness who recount their many attempts at love and sex. 

Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf: About four years. Not sure why – I like Ellis but this just seemed to slip to the bottom of the pile again and again. 

This is a fairly typical Ellis novel. The characters are empty, trying desperately to fill their lives with something – drugs, sex, alcohol – certainly not with what they are supposed to be studying. This isn’t a criticism. I enjoy Ellis’s style and subject matter, just that it is easy to see where this fits before American Psycho and Glamarama. Of course, both of those branch off from this one so I suppose it isn’t surprising.

The main characters are Sean, Paul and Lauren and they get the narrative the most often. The triangle is absurd. Paul is besotted with Sean and describes their time together but if you only read Sean’s chapters then you’d never know about this relationship as he only mentions Paul in passing. In fact, it is almost possible to believe that Paul has the wrong person although some details do seem to be backed up by Lauren. He claims to be in love with Lauren but only because he thinks that she has been leaving love notes for him. Lauren’s motives for sleeping with Sean are uncertain although she is bored and angry with Victor who she discovers is chasing somebody else.

This is typical of the relationships in the novel and of the other characters who get the narrative voice. Everyone is in love with the wrong person. This is a novel about disconnection. Not just between people but with life and with themselves. No one really knows what anyone else is thinking or even comes close to guessing. In fact, more often then not, they have it about as wrong as it is possible to be.

This lack of connection is shown in the way the characters bed hop with about as much thought for sex as any other bodily function. It is no more important than scratching an itch. Even while Sean claims to be in love with Lauren, he still sleeps with her best friend. Also, it is symbolised by the fact that no one seems able to decide on a subject to study. These people do not know themselves so it makes sense that they would be unable to form relationships or settle on a pathway for the future.

This novel is funny in places and Ellis has a superb ear for dialogue so the meaningless student exchanges seem realistic and reminded me of the sort of conversations that you have at that age. Ultimately though, this is a difficult book to read and I found the characters a bit depressing. They have no characteristics, they only have things. And while I know these sort of people exist, I certainly wouldn’t want to spend anymore time than I just have in their company.

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