Usually when I watch a film based on a book, I have either already read the book or I am not really inclined to read the book afterwards. ‘The Rules of Attraction’ was the exception to the rule. I remember watching the film years ago and thinking to myself, that the book should be equally as charming with its array of hopeless characters. Mostly, I just wanted to know more about each of them.
Now, having read the book, I can say with absolutely certainty that the film does not stand anywhere close to it. The story is told from the perspectives of a variety of characters, which is really the essence of it, and this aspect was heavily underplayed in the film, since what the book provides is an insight into the same situations by several of the people involved. This is especially important when it comes to the relationships between them, as it becomes obvious that none of the characters see them in quite the same way.
What really lies at the heart of this novel is a nihilistic view of love in our modern times, or rather among privileged students wasting their lives away at university. It’s an endless stream of parties, casual sex, alcohol, drugs and the rare moment of realisation that they actually have no idea what they are doing or what they want to be in life. What is most striking is the absolute hopelessness which Ellis attributes to the idea of love, since every character who is in love with someone, loves the person unrequitedly and is even disdained by the object of their affection. Not only that, but every single love story seems to be based on not even really knowing the person who they are in love with, pointing to the idea that love is merely a fantasy which we allow ourselves to drift into.
The most profound feelings in the book are possessed by an unnamed girl, who is so in love with Sean Bateman, that she kills herself, when she realises that he will never love her back. After her death we see the characters mention it briefly in their reflections, without knowing why she did it, who she even was or in some cases they mock her suicide, essentially rendering her death meaningless and showing the absurdity of her feelings. The same goes for Lauren, who could be called the main character of the book, as her own life revolves around longing for Victor, another student, who has gone abroad to Europe, and she patiently waits for his calls and dreams of their reunion. Only when that happens, Victor does not even know who Lauren is, once again showing how her self-destructive behaviour which stemmed from her longing for him, was completely pointless to begin with.
It’s a book that might leave some in despair, as Ellis indulges in this defeatist portrayal of love and does not shy away from graphic and obscene descriptions of the worst things that may happen in student halls, but it’s a valuable read. It strips away some of the illusions a more naive reader could have about some aspects of life, and instead sobers them up to the prospect that in any given situation one should put themselves first. Which is why at times this book may become frustrating since it’s difficult to accept how little the characters think of their long-term interests and how little they appreciate the opportunities, which they are given in life.
This novel may not be for everyone, as some may find it vulgar and repelling, others just infuriating and not relateable at all. However, I still highly recommend it, since I rushed through it in only a two days, eager to see if any of the characters will have a long-awaited epiphany or if Ellis will sprinkle even a grain of optimism into the final pages. That is for you to find out.
I give this book five out of five wine bottles.