Less Than Zero – Bret Easton Ellis: A Review

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Date finished: July 16th 2013

There’s no feeling quite like a book that shocks right to the core. It’s that moment when you finish the last sentence, close the cover, place the book on the nearest available surface and just think to yourself ‘whoa.’ For the rest of the day the novel haunts your mind and, when you attempt another book it’s always unsatisfying because it can’t match up to your most recent experience.

Less Than Zero is without a doubt one such novel. Written by Bret Easton Ellis when he was just 21, the novel chronicles the experiences of Clay, a young man who’s just returned to his home in California after his first semester at an eastern University, as he looks upon his friends and family with new eyes.

This isn’t an easy read. Ellis’ voice is purposefully repetitive, simplistic and impartial. Clay exists less as a character and more as a conduit for us to experience the narrative through. He describes his hedonistic summer of drink, drugs and sex with detached nihilism. The plot is somewhat thin on the ground but that is by no means a criticism. The point of Less Than Zero is to lull you into a false sense of routine before punching you straight in the gut. The first 150 or so pages alone are utterly barren. It’s the final act which is both defined by, and gives meaning to, the rest of the story.

At a tad short of 200 pages, it’s a short novel, but Ellis’ ability to create tension without the reader being aware is unparalleled. What he ultimately delivers is a chilling and inhuman portrayal of the results of boundless privilege. Within these pages, the foundations of his more famous work American Psycho can be glimpsed within the structure of his debut.

Less than Zero is a harrowing and difficult read, a painful build up to an incredible pay-off, and arguably Ellis’ best work; more grounded and relevant than American Psycho whilst short enough as to not be a slog. It’s an experiment for any reader, but if one can look beyond it’s slight and mostly intentional flaws, then it’s one of the most edifying and important works of contemporary literature one can read.

8/10

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