Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

by Kristopher Cook
Less Than Zero by Bret Easton-Ellis Book Cover
Clay comes home for Christmas vacation and re-enters a life of privilege, where everyone drives Porches, dines at Spago and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his high school friend, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin.
Genre: Contemporary
Available from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Audible
Estimated Read: 4 minutes

Bret Easton Ellis has always been a controversial figure ever since his debut novel, Less than Zero. Whether it’s for his grotesque violence, often aimed at women, his troubled and abusive teenaged characters, or his constant attack on Millenials – terming them Generation Wuss.

He’s a polarising person at best.

Now, Less than Zero is a bland amble through the teenage life of a character I couldn’t give a shit about. Not only that, his friends are even blander.

No concrete facts are ever given; ages left at approximates, everyone assumed to have slept with everyone, which leads to them speculating whether their drug-dealer is a ‘faggot’ or not.

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.
Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

It’s merely middle ground.

I was continually waiting for the book to kick into gear, offer up a twist, or at least make a statement but no.

Undertones of the Hedonistic

If I dig a little deeper, I guess I could conclude that Gen X, MTV-loving upper-class teenagers are a generation that is totally consumed by materialism, along with self-gratification.

There is, however, no sympathy siding with the characters as they appear to bring on most of their problems themselves.

Continually chasing a hedonistic life will only lead so far before it completely consumes the person entirely, as is the case here.

References to popular music including Elvis Costello, the Go-Gos, INXS, U2, and Fleetwood Mac, accompanied by films: Friday the 13th, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Temple of Doom are littered throughout the novel.

This was similarly the case with Easton Ellis’ best-known work, American Psycho.

These references ground the book in the times which can sometimes work against it when reading them in this modern-day era.

Everyone is toned, tanned, has blue eyes and blond hair, just like the ideal model image of the ’90s. So much so, they all begin to appear as the same person, and when new characters are being introduced way past the halfway point, keeping track can be difficult.

My Understanding of Less Than Zero

“Clay. Hey Clay!” Trent shouts at me.

Trent is tanned, blue eyes and has blond hair.

“What?” I say.

“Have you read that book yet?” Trent iterates.

“What book?” I enquire, knowing full well he means Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis.

“Less than Zero. The one about the kids doing drugs in Los Angeles during the ’90s. It’s like, totally amazing.” Trent announces.

“No,” I tell him, even though I have.

“You’re weird.” He says.

“Why am I weird?” I ask, not really caring for an answer.

“You’re different, like, really pale.”

“Am I?”


I look in the mirror. I am pale. It makes me look ill. I need to go down to the beach.

I drive up to the Mulholland hills to make a phone call from a payphone booth that has no door.

“Brad? Brad? Is that you?” a girl’s voice says through the phone.

“No Muriel, its Clay,” I tell her.

“Brad? “Where are you? And why is it so loud?” she says in a confused stupor, probably down to the coke she’s been sniffing at Daddy’s pool.

“I’m in a phone booth on Mulholland hills, and there’s no door, so you can hear the traffic,” I reply. It doesn’t make any difference. “Have you seen Julian?”

“He might be over at Kim’s house.” Pause “Or he could be over at Alana’s. Or at Daniel’s.”

“Can you tell him I called?” I say, trying not to raise my voice.

“Fine. Wait… Who is this?” She slurs.

I hang up.

I go to Kim’s house. A red Porsche sits in front of a large gated mansion that has an Olympic sized pool in the back. Julian isn’t there.

I go over to Alana’s house. The lights are on in the main bedroom, but nobody appears to be home.

I then go over to Daniel’s. He answers the door. He’s tanned with blue eyes and blond hair. He must be about 16, I think, maybe 17.

“Hey Clay. What are you doing here?” Daniel asks.

“Is Julian here?” I say, getting bored of asking.

“No, I haven’t seen him.”

“Fuck. I need to find him. He has the plot.” I wince realising I’ve said too much.

“Sorry. Not seen him in like, three days. Not since the party at Rip’s”. I’m pretty sure Daniel wasn’t there, but I don’t say anything. “Do you want to come in? I’ve got some coke in the back if you want to layout by the pool?”

“Sure,” I say, not really wanting to keep Daniel’s company, but at least it’s a chance to get some sun.

Closing Thoughts

Less than Zero is easy-to-read; however, the repetition of it all becomes tedious quickly and can make finishing this seemingly short-ish book a bit of a chore.

If you’ve read any of Bret Easton Ellis’ books before then you’ll know what to expect; a commentary on the times through the use of hedonistic activities and vulgar repetition.

However, if you’re new to the party, then certainly give this one a try. It’s not entirely on par with American Psycho, but it’s much easier to stomach.

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