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In the current climate where nothing seems to matter anymore and morals are getting lower and darker its refreshing to read Ellis' first novel Less than Zero, set in the 80s, where the culture was beginning to grow. It made me feel more at ease that it has taken a good twenty years for the culture to bleed into the vast majority of us myself included.
The book is set in LA a city well known for its rich residents and its seedy underworld. Clay has returned home from college to catch up with old friends and his on again off again girlfriend Blair. Clay begins his journey into discovering who he is and who his friends are and grows alienated from situations that should deeply trouble him but instead only numbs him.
I cannot go into anymore of the plot than that as it'd ruin the story but as with Ellis' later novel American Psycho it is graphic at times. However I found I could enjoy this book a bit more that Psycho, it was shorter and more poignant. It is suitable for everybody to read as even if you have no experience of party lifestyles, drugs and nihilism it marks the end of childhood and we can all relate to that, can't we?
I have never lived in America and the only place I have visited in America is Florida when I was young and then the only part of America I saw was the bright lights of Disneyland and the other surrounding theme parks that populate that corner of America. I also am not of the same generation as Ellis, so I don't connect with the nostalgic elements of the book that it may hold dear for many people. So I can't say that I understand the context of the book, and so cannot connect to it in that way. But I am the same age as Clay, the lead character of the novel, so I understand the nihilism and consumerism that runs throughout the book. I have read American Psycho, and many believe it to be better than this novel, but Less Than Zero had more of an effect on me. Whereas AP's sex, drugs and violence led to a figurative and literal overkill, the same in LTZ lulled me into taking on Clay's way of life as if I can see it all through his eyes. Then when I was taken through the final part of the novel, it shocked me more than AP ever did. And thats why I find LTZ a better (and shorter) read than AP. You get a sense of Ellis' style, the way his narrative works, and also get it with a lot less bother than with AP. Thoroughly recommended.
Ellis' debut novel is a glance into the life of America's young, rich, and disaffected youth. Drugs are so freely available that thier usage is prolific yet nochelant, one's own life is seen as that of a leaf in the wind - everyone is blown around without any notion of self-determination, and other people's lives, even friend's lives, are only important when directly connected to one's own. Clay, the protagonist, is young, rich, good looking, blonde, tanned, and so is everyone else in the novel. He has returned during University holidays to his family home. During this brief spell we see that he is a boy surrounded by people, yet totally alone. His family and friends have no bearing on, or meaning in, his life. His three most frequent acquintances are his drug sealer, his childhood friend who is now a rent boy, and his on - off girlfriend with whom he has no contact during term time. He has, as he says when picking out Christmas presents, everything he wants, and yet he has nothing. Ellis has a great gift of presenting you with a character who has only bad qualities and forcing you to pity them, understand them, and empathise with them (to my knowledge, only 'Lolita' does this better). This is not his most famous work, with the infamous American Psycho beating all others hands down, though it is, in many ways, far superior to it. It is also not his best work, and I would say that, if anyone were to invest in an Ellis novel, buy American Psycho for conversational value (and because it is so far superior to the film), but buy The Informers if you want to buy his, by far, best work.
Set in the early eighties (and therefore preceding American Psycho), this book has the glamorous setting of Los Angeles, Hollywood style. The cast of characters includes wannabe actors, coke snorting rent boys, rich kids and more. The great thing about the book is how despite seemingly glamorising the lifestyle of those involved we ultimately see them all as being tragic, shallow and soulless. Whilst it avoids the violence of his later works this is still a powerful and often eye opening book, the only criticism of which is that it now seems a little dated.
'Less Than Zero' is the particularly accomplished debut novel from Bret Easton Ellis, hailed as a Jack Kerouac for the morally barren 1980s, and most famous for his controversial novel 'American Psycho'. Set in affluent Los Angeles, this novel portrays a young nihilistic generation desensitized to sex, drugs and disaffection. The vision is seen through a narrator, Clay, who has returned home for Christmas. There is no distinct plot, but instead it follows Clay through parties, bars, clubs and bedrooms. The characters are all washed with disillusionment, and yet one rarely senses emotions, even in Clay, who speaks almost as a detached observer. The tone of 'Less Than Zero' slowly creeps on you as you read, with its central "give-a-f***" attitude affecting you almost subliminally. Disheartening yet poignant.
Clay comes home to L.A. for Christmas vacation and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege in a nmoral vacuum, where everyone drives sportscars and consumes mountains of cocaine. Clay's holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the relentless parties in glitzy mansions, seedy bars, and underground rock clubs. Morally barren, ethically bereft and tinged with implicit violence, Bret Easton Ellis' first novel is a shocking coming-of-age story about the casual nihilism that comes with youth and money.