I have been wanting to read Less Than Zero for some time as I enjoyed the movie of the same name in my teens and thought it might be a more palatable introduction to Bret Easton Ellis than American Psycho, which is also on my reading list. From what I recall of the film version, it would seem very loosely based on this novel.
From the onset, Less Than Zero makes the reader aware of the wealth and indulgence of its characters, with talk of convertibles, first class flights and maids within the first few pages. The novel is narrated by the central protagonist Clay whose descriptions are that of a somewhat detached observer. Clay, along with his friends and acquaintances, is generally drug addled, self-absorbed and sycophantic. At times the dialogue seems a little grating, however it is indicative of the characters. Ellis also pertinently defines dissatisfying and unhappy relationships, with uncomfortable get-togethers and families who barely know each other. He shows a keen observation of people and life, particularly considering his own youth when he wrote the book.
This novel isn’t for everyone, with strong undercurrents of death, depression and a world changing for the worse, it also includes themes of rape, prostitution and drug use. Los Angeles is the perfect setting for the story, with the city and its inhabitants accepting and encouraging of the behaviours presented. Less Than Zero provides an insightful portrayal of the excess and decadence of the eighties, with many references to the culture of the time, and where parties, drugs, alcohol and sexual encounters are rife. The lifestyles and scenarios depicted throughout the novel are open to reader interpretation and although I think the novel may hold more significance if it is read in your late teens/early twenties, it provides substance and appeal to all ages.
“In 1985, Bret Easton Ellis shocked, stunned and disturbed with his debut novel, Less Than Zero. Published when he was just twenty-one, this extraordinary and instantly infamous work has done more than simply define a genre, it has become a rare thing: a cult classic and timeless embodiment of the zeitgeist. It continues to be a landmark in the lives of successive generations of readers across the globe.
Filled with relentless drinking in seamy bars and glamorous nightclubs, wild, drug-fuelled parties, and dispassionate sexual encounters, Less Than Zero – narrated by Clay, an eighteen-year-old student returning home to Los Angeles for Christmas – is a fierce coming-of-age story, justifiably celebrated for its unflinching depiction of hedonistic youth, its brutal portrayal of the inexorable consequences of such moral depravity, and its author’s refusal to condone or chastise such behaviour.”