RARA-AVIS: James Ellroy Reading

From: TAIT RAYMOND (raymond.tait@ntlworld.com)
Date: 15 Oct 2010

  • Next message: bobav1: "RARA-AVIS: OT: odd book spam from "Rara Avis Publishers""

    I attended a reading by James Ellroy last week on 5 October at the Cambridge Union here in Cambridge, England. The reading took place in the main chamber which you can see pictures of here:


    When I went in to take a seat people were sitting on both sides of the chamber with a lectern placed in the middle just in front of the ‘big red chair’ so that he would have been facing down the middle of two rows of seats opposite each other. A little while before the scheduled start time a young woman came in and asked everyone on one side to move to the other so that they could move the lectern and he could face one side of the chamber. An audience of 100 or so gathered. Just after 7.30 she came back and gave a brief introduction before asking us to welcome James Ellroy who entered and took up his position. He is a very striking man! He also dresses well and that night was wearing a more casual outfit than I might have expected: Sleeveless dark grey pullover, long sleeved reddish shirt with a nice pattern, white trousers and what appeared to be trainers. It all looked good anyway.

    He began with a very theatrical introduction where he spoke about being in Cambridge, quoted a chunk of TS Eliot and then something else that I didn’t recognize before addressing the audience more informally. He explained that he was going to read five short pieces from The Hilliker Curse and then we would be able to ask questions. At some point during all this he went off on a bizarre riff about how if we all bought 1,000 copies of the book or something like it we would be able to have unlimited sex with anyone we wanted forever. It was a bit more complicated than that with separate stages but didn’t quite come off in my view. He also gave us a variation on this which every audience gets: ‘Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I'm James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I'm the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces.’ He told the story about his mother asking him on his tenth birthday who he wanted to live with, her or his dad, and how she hit him when she said his dad. And how he invoked the Hilliker curse as a consequence.

    Then the reading. He reads in quite a unique way, more like a poet than a novelist - phrases hurled out in a very declamatory way with pauses in between. I wasn’t entirely sure this worked until he came to the fourth or fifth passage which is written in a ‘he said, she said’ form where I thought it came off really well.

    And then the questions and answers section which was of course the highlight of the evening. They covered the following territory

    Who is the Blood the Rover dedicated to? I can’t remember exactly what was said but I think it was the woman who was the ‘she’ in the passage he read from The Hilliker Curse. This was the first question from a woman who is a big fan and had read all his books. It developed into a fairly lengthy dialogue between them. Who knows, maybe they spent the night together?

    Something about Closure. There is no such thing as closure says JE. He spoke about the influence of the death of his mother and then told a sort of joke. He would like to meet the person who invented sex and ask what project they are working on now. And he would like to meet the person who invented the concept of closure and shove a plate up their ass.

    Does he have any influence over film versions of his novels? No. He went on to talk about how films are like hamburgers and he doesn’t watch them. He explained that he doesn’t read newspapers, doesn’t watch TV and doesn’t go to the cinema. Has no books in his home apart from his own and one other the identity of which I have forgotten. And that basically he lives in LA of over 40 years ago in his head writing his books.

    He mentioned Beethoven and someone asked what was so great about him. He explained that Beethoven had revolutionized music in a way that no other artist has done with any other artform and spoke about the greatness of Beethoven’s late music and the importance of his deafness.

    I asked him about the extent to which he believes the events in American Tabloid for example are the sorts of things which actually occurred and the extent to which they are a conscious exaggeration. He replied that he didn’t want to seem glib but that he makes all that shit up.

    Someone else asked if he had ever had any legal comeback from anyone. He said there had been one legal action where a researcher had identified the death of someone in one of his books but it turned out this was another person with the same name. He said he wasn’t able to talk about the specifics.

    Someone asked about Noir. He said he wasn’t noir at all.

    Someone asked about Raymond Chandler. The most overrated writer in the history of American literature. Terrible plots etc. Now Dashiell Hammett…

    Does he believe in God? Yes

    Will he go to heaven? Yes

    After the questions he signed books for us with his characteristic scribble.

    I found him charismatic and intimidating, unique and impressive. I haven’t read enough of his books to be able to assess his real worth but having just read American Tabloid for the first time which I think is a huge novel in every sense I mean to read more.


    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


    RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ Yahoo! Groups Links

    <*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

    <*> Your email settings:
        Individual Email | Traditional

    <*> To change settings online go to:
        (Yahoo! ID required)

    <*> To change settings via email:

    <*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

    <*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 15 Oct 2010 EDT