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
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
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