This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

After watching the movie Less Than Zero, I decided I wanted to read the book. I didn't much care for the movie so I hoped the book would do better.

I was in for a big surprise. The movie is NOTHING like the book. The only thing that matched were the names of the characters. It makes the movie even worse, to me, so it was probably a good thing I saw the movie first.

Less Than Zero was published in 1985. Ellis wrote this when he was a mere 19 years old. It became an instant 'classic'; a literary revolutionary for the youngest of the 20th century.

The novel is about a group of teens-becoming-adults. Not just any teens but very rich children of very rich families in Los Angeles. Clay, the protagonist, returns to LA after attending college in New Hampshire after high school. It has been four months since he has met up with the rest of his entitled friends.

In the movie, Clay returns to his hometown to woo back his girlfriend and eventually, help his druggie friend Julian out. He stops using drugs and wants to help these two, his BFFs, get clean.

In the book, none of this happens. Clay returns and continues to do coke and drink. He has sex with his ex-girlfriend, but not before he has sex with an old guy friend.

Clay is affectless. He is completely and utterly unemotional. He floats from place to place, meeting up with people with no rhyme or reason. And these people also do coke, do not work, float from place to place, have sex and party all night long.

At one point, Blair, the ex-girlfriend, asks Clay if he ever loved her. He struggles to find an answer but tells her no. And while she walks away, she calls him later because, Blair doesn't seem to care either.

The novel was OK for me. It is written as someone on coke would write (I think, since I am only making an assumption at what that would be): run on paragraphs written in Clay's voice. There are a few sections, in italic form, in which he is reminiscing about the past. I am not sure why the font style changed because, the voice didn't really. It was still Clay. It was still his ramblings. I guess the 'flashbacks' were a little more intimate with feeling from Clay vs. the rest of his ramblings with just careless attitude. If anything, he gets easily annoyed at any remote chance of intimacy through conversations.

I do like Eliss' style, while trying to get used to his rhythm. I plan to read his next one, The Rules of Attraction and especially look forward to American Psycho. I like controversial books and the movie itself was controversial, although I think it was played up too much because I didn't love it all that well.

The parts of the novel that were disturbing-but-not-really-but-must-have-been-in-1985 were: the snuff movie that Clay catches a glimpse of at one of his friend's house...and everyone in the home was entranced, and turned on, by the movie.

The almost recreation of the rape scene of the snuff film with a real girl and that Clay's friends were participating in it...eagerly, without guilt or remorse. Just something to do because they can.

Clay doesn't partake in these and is somewhat disgusted by it but not enough to actually stop being friends with them or call the police.

In the end, his BFF in the movie, Julian, is not necessarily his BFF in the book. Julian is just another friend who floats to whenever they appear. Julian *is* a drug-addicted heroin user; he's also a prostitute working for his drug.

There is no single redeeming character in this novel. No one that I could feel sorry for. No one that I would be sad to see leave this world. I wondered if there were truly people in this world that could be so...monotonous? No real desire to live and do anything but self-gratification in any form.

I am sure that is what makes this book so controversial. It was a good read for me, to just get an idea of Ellis, who was deemed as one of the 'literary brat packs' of our time. It's a quick read too which made it easier to stomach.


  1. It's been so long since I read any of BEE's books. I remember thinking that book "Less Than Zero" was quite different from the movie. The movie did not accurately portray the vacuousness of the characters. "Rules of Attraction" did not do much for me, but "American Psycho" was ridiculous. I thought it was a page turner, but I was 20 when I read it, so I don't know how much that played into my interpretation. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on the other books.

    Also, check out Donna Tartt's "A Secret History." She was a good friend of Ellis's at Bennington. Her writing, I think, is much better.

  2. I will probably skip Rules of Attraction then...BEE didn't seem to care for his own novel. I really wanted to read American Psycho but since I had just seen Less Than Zero, I thought I'd start with the book that put him on the map.

    I did read The Secret History last November. I found it puzzling - the story itself...did I like it or not? I know that Henry stayed with me for awhile after I finished it. And I liked her writing style. BEE was a little difficult for me and I think I need another novel to figure out if I like him as much.

  3. dislike the book.
    LOVE the movie.
    true friends there for him,until the END...

    great movie.
    great awesome movie,a mixture of all musica.

    and i enjoy sexy handsome boyish looking new jersey born and raised...Andrew McCarthy/Clay
    and sexy GREAT actor always robert downey jr,
    and The tall dark hair beautiful girl./woman,.
    Blair .Jamie Gertz. love all of them in their 40
    's, now but i lov them still,great cast! james spader always rock love him in this even if he was a di--k, love him! and sad how less than zero end. just a great classic,film watchin it again right now on ENCORE. love less than zero!
    forever....Love it.

    from geena romano on facebook.
    N.Y.C. NJ tri-state.

  4. Hi Geena! It was cool to see these actors so young. I think James Spader is an amazing actor and enjoyed seeing him in this one, playing his typical asshole role.