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less than zeroReleased: 1985

After finishing reading this book I felt physically out of breath. My mind raced through the pages of this book like no other. It’s not a long novel with about 200 pages (depending of the copy), so I was able to read it fairly quickly (especially as I didn’t want to stop reading). It’s not often I become so engrossed in a book that I read the whole thing in three sittings.

Ellis’ debut novel, published in 1985 when Ellis himself was still in college, is an amazing literary achievement and the first in a string of successful books, both commercially (American Psycho – both book and film) and in a more cultish way (Glamorama). If you read Bret Easton Ellis novels, you don’t read just one. You can’t because he leaves you wanting more. His style of writing is so meticulously that it puts the reader into the mind of the narrator – which allows you to forget that you’re reading a book about someone who doesn’t exist.

From the moment you read the first thoughts of the character, until the story of this part of their life ends, you feel and think as the character does. Ellis does this, I think, through little throwaway thoughts and comments; the small world observations such as noticing someone in a cafe looking unhappy, then thinking that you don’t really care. This train of thought is something we do all the time but don’t remember because for the most part it doesn’t impact our lives. But these moments do make up our lives. These observations make the dialogue and characters actions believable and multi-dimensional.

Less than Zero is about a young man named Clay who returns home to L.A. from college for Christmas break. His rich friends have an indulgent holiday in a city where anything seems possible if you want it, can pay for it and are willing to take it. Set in the 1980s, Clay becomes disillusioned with his and his friends’ lives. He is both acutely aware of the ‘same old, same old’ paths that the people around him are taking; even if those paths are drug fuelled, mansion pool parties with the ever present young, tanned, blonde boys that permeate the book.  These drugs, sex and booze parties could be shown as glamorous but are instead portrayed grimly with loneliness, neglect, boredom and occasionally fear.

What’s interesting about the perspective Ellis uses for Clay is that his doesn’t pass judgement on the other characters actions. Whether he approves or not, he can express his admiration or disgust to the reader whilst allowing them to make up their own mind and showing that opinions don’t matter when people will do whatever they want, regardless of judgement. The young people in this novel barely understand consequences, mostly because they don’t face any. They don’t fear repercussions. There is a general consensus, it seems, that if you aren’t doing something, anything, you’re dead. Sometimes literally.

I was first introduced to Bret Easton Ellis through the film The Rules Of Attraction, which led to me reading the book. Both the novel and film are excellent. Whilst the setting for the film was also the college years, this book has much more innocence. You feel as though Clay and his friends are at the last child-to-adult in-between stage and arguably the hardest to navigate.

If you’ve read or seen anything by Bret Easton Ellis then you’re sure to enjoy this book, all the more as it’s the book that launched his career. If you like the strange, real world, personal, dystopia-esque’ stories, such as Girl, Interrupted, then you’ll likely enjoy this brilliant, thought provoking novel.

★★★★

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