Ellroy’s Curse


James Ellroy is the Ancient Mariner of LA Noir. For decades, he has been fixing his audiences with a glittering eye and delivering his staccato rap about his mother’s murder when he was a child, his adolescent delinquencies, obsessions and perversions, his voyeurism and addictions, and his colossal and grandiose literary ambitions. I first heard Ellroy give his spiel in a BBC radio interview in the 1990s; since then he has repeated it internationally at bookstores and literary festivals, in print and on the air; he seems to have confessed it to every interviewer but Oprah. In May 2004, he notes in this new memoir, he delivered the “six thousandth public performance of my dead-mother act” at a gig in Sacramento, with the usual success: “I was boffo. I read from pitch-perfect memory and laid down even eye contact”. The “Hilliker curse” is the name Ellroy gives to the cosmic malediction for his guilt-ridden love–hate feelings towards his mother, Jean Hilliker Ellroy, and his belief that since her death he has been destined to pursue women who resemble her, or his fantasies of her. When his mother was killed, Ellroy began his lifelong quest “to write books and find the Other” – the woman who would be his Shelleyan partner, doppelgänger and soulmate.

more from Elaine Showalter at the TLS here.