Title: Less Than Zero
Author: Bret Easton Ellis
What I Think So Far: It’s rare that a book should focus so unflinchingly on one theme, but Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero is a book almost solely about hedonism. Following the existence of a posh, depraved, arrogant Californian yuppie, Clay, Ellis takes us through the sun-baked hedonism of the West Coast of America for the white elite. Returning from New Hampshire, the rather unlikeable Clay meets up with his equally disagreeable friends at a series of parties, including the racist male model Trent and Alana, who makes a point of only sleeping with men who look like David Bowie and are left-handed. Sounds bearable? Wait till you’ve reached page 100 of listening to stuck-up Californians bleat meaninglessly. Less Than Zero is less of a traditional novel, more of a disjointed catalogue of the narrator’s experiences with narcotics and casual sex – so casual it eventually becomes a meaningless act, like repeating a word so many times it becomes a collection of phonetic sounds. Certainly, like most Ellis books, it’s not easy reading for a Sunday afternoon. It hits hard with a candid reality, reflecting either the worst of humanity – or maybe the best of it. In amongst the cocaine and sex, is there a moral written between the lines? Is it in fact a cautionary tale like Trainspotting, a warning against hedonism? Or is it in fact an advert, almost a provocation for wild living? Whatever it is, or rather however you interpret it – the narrator never really comes to a conclusion on his lifestyle, he merely drifts through the book swimming with the tide – it is what it is, almost documentary-like. It’s a little refreshing to read a book that doesn’t judge morally, and is up to the reader’s interpretation,
Would I Recommend It?: While definitely an acquired taste, Less Than Zero is a book worth reading. It’s an example of a book’s ability to define a zeitgeist trumping its ability to read perfectly as a book. Less Than Zero isn’t a classic as a book in isolation, but it’s the message it carries (or the lack of one) that can define it. You should probably read it, purely for the “experience”, as self-masturbatory as that sounds, because it can be an experience. The disjointed way the book is structured leaves you dizzy and reeling with it, and you begin to be sucked into the solipsism and looping events of Clay’s life, where it’s like a video tape being rewound and re-watched and rewound for 195 pages. So I would recommend it, but it’s easy to be thrown off or distracted by another book. If you can stick it out, there’s a good read waiting for you.
By Gabriel Rutherford