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3.6 out of 5 stars104
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on 8 September 2005
Where did Bret Easton-Ellis come from? I don't mean geographically. I mean how did someone in their early twenties write such a complete book? Less Than Zero is so accomplished it's incredible. It tells the story of the teenagers of the rich and famous, and their decent into decadence simply in search of something to do. These characters simply have nothing to risk. They are dead to the world and completely souless.
I think a lot of other authors wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to satirise the characters. Easton-Ellis looks beyond the shallowness of his characters and the result is a tragedy worthy of Evelyn Waugh, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, Less Than Zero is not as entertaining as Vile Bodies or The Great Gatsby. It's on a par with The Sun Also Rises though.
I think as the years go by, this book will be seen as more and more tragic, and an extremely good record of 1980s America at it's most empty and decadent. When it was first released some reviewers misread it as some kind of nihilistic call-to-arms for young party people. There's even an excerpt on the back of the book from one reviewer who compares the characters to The Beat Generation and generally approves of their wild party antics. I think now that the dust has settled it's easier to understand the meaning of this book. There's no soul in this party.
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on 3 November 2007
I think the most astonishing thing about Bret Easton Ellis's first book is how well constructed it is, how it permanently keeps you on edge, and how effectively it conveys an atmosphere of increasing dread out of what starts out to be just an impressive amount of shallowness. American Psycho notwithstanding, Less than Zero might just be his most powerful book, and if you are new to Ellis, then you are in for a real treat. For those in the know, all the familiar Ellis themes are already firmly in place: the emptiness, the alienation, the complete boredom of a spoiled generation - abandoned and eaten by their parents - who only get their kicks in the most perverse and obscene ways. These LA scenesters are utterly dead, or better yet, they are undead, and, like proper vampires, need to sustain themselves on a steady diet of human sacrifice. The deaths, OD's, car-crashes and snuff films are the only things that raise a flicker of genuine interest in them. All the rest (the parties, the drugs, the sex) is just business as usual.
What is not business as usual is the way Ellis carefully builds on this, introducing and exposing the reader to all the superficial drug abuse and mindless sex before building up to the real decadence underneath - the only one that seems to elicit a flicker of interest (if not true excitement) from these walking dead. And in Clay, Ellis has one of his best characters: as dead as the rest of them, he expertly guides the reader through this emotionally barren landscape, showing just the tiniest bit of troubled humanity needed to sustain the reader, towards the final scenes, before returning to his emotionally flat-lined natural state. In any novel, this type of pacing would be great, but for a first novel written in his mid-twenties, it is absolutely ace. Read it and be depressed by Ellis's brilliance.
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on 22 October 2007
Very much a practise run for American Psycho, this nihilistic tale of alienation and ennui among 1980s Los Angeles youth leaves the reader with a feeling of emptiness and despair. This is not alienation through poverty but through excess, the triumph of consumerism over imagination, catalysed by a second-rate culture and education system, and poor quality parenting. Narrated by Clay, on holiday in Los Angeles for Christmas, a clique of decadent and aimless young Californians subsists on a soulless diet of MTV cable, porn films, cocaine, crystal meth and loveless sex; what Philip Roth has called `the dumbest generation yet.' In this moral vacuum they drift from one ruinous party to another, indifferent to the often tragic consequences of their actions (ODs, abortions), balancing precariously between a meaningless life and a meaningless death. The novel is powerful, effective and accomplished in a horrible sort of way, with an undertone of menace, but in the end you can't help feeling that it is as pointless as the lives of the cartoon-ish characters within. A book to sink the spirits.
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on 13 August 2013
"I don't want to care. If I care about things, it'll just be worse, it'll just be another thing to worry about. It's less painful if I don't care." - Clay

If there is ever an overlooked aspect to the work of Andy Warhol, it's that he's not known by the majority so much for his writings, beyond those found on a soup can label.

Warhol's deadpan distanced view of the world, found in work such as The Andy Warhol Diaries seems to have rubbed off on Ellis, the book drifts through the central character Clay's world of meaningless conversations and drug fuelled orgies, where billboard slogans are given more attention than any of the characters within the book.

The strongest aspects of the book are the enigmatic memories of the main character watching his cancer ridden grandmother fade away and descriptions that give some meaning to advertisements, such as the watchful eyes of an Elvis Costello which clearly recalls the billboard of T.J Eckleburg found within The Great Gatsby. At these times, it feels like Ellis is truly shoving the mirror of society in your face and forcing you to comprehend a dose of full fat banality and mortality. Be warned, working off seeing things the way Ellis does within his work takes more than a few Valium.

Less than Zero was written before American Psycho and in some ways, it's a lesser version of it's brilliance. It has all the long paragraphs about 80′s pop culture, described in the same tone as violent and perverse acts causing same desensitizing effect on the reader.

What is missing for me, beyond the higher shock value is any major experimentation with the written style that was found in American Psycho and in many ways, Clay takes on all of Patrick Bateman's banal aspects without the surreal humour of the character coming across as someone Bateman would hack to bits after a nice dinner at Dorsia's.

This is where it all falls apart and Ellis's style becomes tiresome, without any conclusion, you are just getting enigmatic paragraphs that can seem either harrowing or just narrow minded. You are left feeling empty by its motto of: "Everything is the same, but different" and no doubt this is the intended effect. But like Clay, you are left not caring and while you know it's an important first work...you...just...don't...care.

Skip this and make a reservation with American Psycho for a full flavor of the authors distinctive style.
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on 19 September 2012
In this anti-consumerist story everything is available in excess, be in clothes, cars, drugs or sex and few of these things provide any real satisfaction. All of the characters are numbed to life and their individual quests for fulfillment seem futile and misguided. Lacking friends or family who genuinely care for them they live listless lives driving from one unexciting party to the next or find themselves going to extremes of drug use or sex. I found it susprising that one of the quotes on the back of this edition says that Easton-Ellis "refuses to condone or condemn" his characters actions because whilst the novel is not anti sex or drugs I think that most readers would agree for these characters their actions are frequently a result of some deeper lack of love/fulfillment in their lives.

This debut novel has a very distinctive style which compliments the detatchment of its characters, which situations described with a lack of passion which gives the novel a sense of being like readable valium - it is mildly entertaining to read but in a way which totally lacks immediacy. At times I found myself wondering if I was enjoying the novel and at times it was boring.

However, ultimately I did like it for the way the style and content complimented one another and although overall the novel is in the "slice of life genre", events do move towards a conclusion which is somewhat satisfying with main character Clay witnessing the depths of the dark side of his and his friends excessive yet detatched existence and ultimately glad to end his visit home to the L.A suburbs and return to his course in New Hampshire.
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on 9 June 2013
I'm sure some will say that this book is an allegory for a moral decline in American youth etc. When I read a book I want to find a story, good writing, characters etc. This was just a series of pointless activities by repellent self absorbed non-characters - went to party, took drugs, had pointless conversation, may or may not have sex, wake up, go to party, take drugs, have pointless conversations and so on in an endless pattern. The last couple of chapters are particularly unpleasant, especially the lead character's ambivalence and inaction at events taking place.
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on 14 August 1999
An effective portrayal of a defunct and desolate generation, whose world consists of sleazy sex and drugs, everything's for sale. Clay gives such a detached narrative, almost diary like, trapped on a personal conveyor belt to emptiness. His coldness, and emotional numbness to this world is so effective that you occasionally feel lost also. A great novel, almost like a diary, not really consisting of any major storylines, however still an intensely effective depiction of how those who have everything are often the most unfulfilled.
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on 18 February 2016
This book seems boring and shallow, and reading it gives me an anesthetized, hollow, detached feeling that I would not describe as entirely pleasant.

And yet I cannot seem to stop, and whenever I have to, I become very anxious to return to it as quickly as I can. Its appeal is no less powerful for being difficult to pinpoint or explain.

This experience reminds me of something, but I'm not sure what.... Oh yeah, I know: Bright Lights, Big City. Way better, though, so far. I love all the characters' clothes.
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this is THE BOOK... if you were ever looking for a book to communicate the emptiness of life, the disappearance of society and the commodification of society this is that book... i guarantee that if you take this book seriously it will change your life... you will be brought face to face with the impossibility of communication and connection with others... the vacuity of experience and lived life... we are all throwing chicken in the bucket for the man
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on 5 February 2010
This book is a brutal indictment of how life can fester to the point of nothingness... less than zero. Trapped in a world of drugs and sex, clay and his friends know only how to party and gossip... There lives are empty and have no content, lost in an endless cycle of depression, highs and lows. A shocking yet somewhat true portrayal of the postmodern city where life is all about instant gratification...
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