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Less Than Zero

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Set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, this coolly mesmerizing novel is a raw, powerful portrait of a lost generation that experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age, growing up in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money.

Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college and re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porches, dines at Spago, and snorts mountains of cocaine. He tries to renew feelings for his girlfriend, Blair, and for his best friend from high school, Julian, who is careering into hustling and heroin. 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, and into the seamy world of L.A. after dark.

208 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1985

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About the author

Bret Easton Ellis

32 books10.1k followers
Bret Easton Ellis is an American author. He is considered to be one of the major Generation X authors and was regarded as one of the so-called literary Brat Pack, which also included Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney. He has called himself a moralist, although he has often been pegged as a nihilist. His characters are generally young vacuous people, who are aware of their depravity but choose to enjoy it. The novels are also linked by common, recurring characters, and dystopic locales (such as Los Angeles and New York).

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5 stars
17,386 (21%)
4 stars
29,493 (35%)
3 stars
23,946 (29%)
2 stars
8,420 (10%)
1 star
3,208 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,712 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,366 followers
April 26, 2008
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.


Okay, so I really, really liked this a lot, though I totally get why a lot of people didn't. I must say I find many reactions to it perplexing. The Village Voice blurb on the back of my copy calls Less Than Zero "sexy and sassy," which has to be one of the most bizarre characterizations imaginable: to me, this is one of least sassy, least sexy books I can think of (might tie with Marilynne Robinson's Gilead for that prize?). However, maybe that's just because I got confused and missed the point, as often happens.... I mean, a lot of what I kept thinking while reading this was about how tragically I was born in the wrong time, and why didn't I ever get to see Fear and X in LA in their heyday, and I'm pretty sure this was not really what I was supposed to take away from this novel.

My experience of this book was no doubt colored by an unexpected plate-of-shrimp coincidence of life and fiction that I cannot expand upon adequately on this family website. I will say that I think this is the perfect cocaine novel because it so perfectly epitomizes the soul-sucking hollowness and numb angst at the core of this kind of lifestyle and drug use (or so I've heard).

The reason why I thought this was so good, though, and what I'm surprised no one else on here seems to have felt, was that while in one way this was such a total period piece specifically criticizing the materialistic hedonism of the eighties or whatever, to me it transcended that. I seem to be in the minority in feeling this way, and without that sense that there was a larger point, this novel would've been just the cheap trick many other readers accuse it of being. To me, though, this completely deadening, unappealing, unglamorous litany of friends' names and routes driven and restaurants visited and drugs taken was so skillfully done because it should have been so boring but was somehow strangely mesmerizing. With a few missteps towards the end -- I found the whole thing with the friend and the pimp maudlin, silly, and totally off pitch from the rest of the novel -- everything is presented in a flat, deadpan way that makes it both so horrific and yet comprehensible. I never wondered why this kid was doing the things that he did, and that was where the book worked for me, because it's what created a kind of bridge to other lives, including my own.

If Less Than Zero's just a criticism of spoiled, zonked-out rich kids, there's not much of a point to this book, but if you start thinking about your own life, and life in general, then for me that's where it transcends its subject matter. You look at these extreme, exaggerated characters' ridiculous activities and the bizarre, soulless ways they live and relate to each other and it seems so sickening and meaningless, but then in a certain way it forces you to look at activities and life and relationships generally with a wider scope, and you start to wonder how meaningful any of it is, even if you aren't some gross millionaire LA cokehead, even if you're some mild-mannered social worker whose biggest addiction is Bookface. Like, this character's life is obviously pointless, but really, let's be honest, how much of a point is there to anything?

Does that any make sense? It did to me. I know the point I'm saying he makes isn't particularly brilliant or earth-shaking, plus maybe I'm giving BEE too much credit, but I thought this book worked. If you look at it just as a satire of this kind of lifestyle then yeah, it seems like a waste of paper, because how tough a target are these subjects? But then if you start thinking about glass houses and stones, for me that's where it gets good. It's a certain nihilistic way of looking at the world that I usually try to shy away from myself, but it was good to be reminded of it, because this stuff is there. People are really like this. I mean, they are and they aren't, you know?

Reading this book also reminded me of that time I went out on a date with my (formerly) Angeleno Bookster Marshall. When he finally came to New York, I was dismayed to learn that in fact he'd been joking about his willingness to breed with me, but after I got over that initial disappointment, we scored a gram and spent a very pleasant evening going up and down in the elevator of the Flatiron building, arguing over Elvis Costello and American Psycho, and gossiping about our mutual Booksters. It was a fun evening, and it's too bad Marshall wouldn't reproduce with me because I bet those Bookster genes would've created an awesome reviewer, albeit one with a frighteningly low birth weight.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,677 reviews5,253 followers
March 14, 2016
some books are like the face of Justin Long:


this is a highly punchable face. don't you just want to punch that smug look right off of his corny face? it is a face born for being stomped into the ground. ugh, i hate justin long. although i loved him in the last few seconds of Jeepers Creepers, he was perfect for the role of Gutted Horror Victim.

i also hate Less Than Zero. i blame this book for all of the ennui-laden, masturbatory nonsense that was foisted upon the world in the 80s. shouldn't Bret Easton Ellis be in jail for this crime? who gives a fuck about the so-called lives of a bunch of entitled twits and their nonsensical concerns, their tedious yearnings? for chrissakes, in a civilized society, they would all be taken and shot in the college basement, before they became the financial magnates and doyennes of style whose sole goal seems to be to eat the world. the worst crime of this gag-worthy book is that Ellis appears to take his characters' issues to be genuinely weighty. that is as deluded as the delusions of his extremely lightweight and eye-rolling characters.

instead of reading this jackassery, watch Walt Stillman's Metropolitan instead. a much more pleasant experience!
134 reviews200 followers
August 11, 2016
Last year I spent a few months as an intern for a major national arts publication, which shall remain nameless because that makes me look cooler than if I just blurted it out. I had a few regular duties at this (unpaid) gig, the primary one being transcription of interviews. You might think that transcribing is drudgery, and in a sense it is. But if the interview subject was interesting—and, given this publication's bent and cachet, most of the subjects were interesting—it provided a rare glimpse into the messy vocal raw material of an interview, as opposed to the cleaned-up, translated-into-printed-words final product.

One of the most fascinating interviews I transcribed was with none other than Bret Easton Ellis. The occasion of the interview was the release of the film version of Ellis' The Informers, which, according to Ellis and just about everyone else who saw it, was pretty much of a misbegotten failure. (Ellis co-wrote the script, but the film was apparently hacked to bits in the editing room; his tone toward the film was one of aggrievement, and he insisted that the longer, un-fucked-with cut of the film—it was supposed to be a sprawling, Altman-esque epic—was good. It's doubtful we'll ever see it. I'm actually not sure how much of this stuff made it into the printed interview, since some of it was supposed to be off the record.) Listening to the interview was an odd experience, because Ellis is an odd man. He was very personable and friendly toward the interviewer, moreso than any other subject I transcribed—he seemed to believe that he was just shooting the shit with this critic over the phone rather than giving an interview, and consequently he didn't seem to care much about staying on topic or saying things that made sense. As on his Twitter feed, he mostly talked about movies. Apparently a huge cinephile, Ellis kept prodding the interviewer with questions about which films he'd seen lately, what did he think of film X, how much he hated film Y, etc. My favorite moment went like this:

Interviewer: {Thoughtful, penetrating question about Ellis' work}

Ellis: {Loooooooooooooooong pause}

Ellis: Did you see Monsters vs. Aliens?

I shit you not, folks. I can't remember if Ellis eventually answered the question but I do know he went off on how much he loved Monsters vs. Aliens for a few minutes. And I loved him for that. But sometimes he was cogent and he said some smart, interesting shit—he went off an inspired riff about aesthetics vs. morality, and while he was ostensibly talking about the Irish-hunger-strike film Hunger his comments obviously applied to his own work. And he was really, really nice. Like, weirdly nice. He has this reputation for bad-boy nihilism or misogyny or whatever, but the guy I listened to seemed like way more of a mensch than, say, Jonathan "Fuck You" Franzen. Having never read a word by the man, I went home that day liking him.

Just the other day, over a year after the events related above, I went back to the offices of the aforementioned major national arts publication to interview for a copy editor position. Afterwards, not feeling too great about how it went, I consoled myself by hanging out in the used bookstore around the corner, where I walked out with copies of American Psycho and Less Than Zero. In fact, the inspiration for this purchase was not so much a sense-memory recall of last year's Ellis transcript as it was the recent GR review of American Psycho by Brian. That review was totally badass, and made me want to give this controversial writer the old college try.

So, Less Than Zero: 200 pages in the company of the overprivileged, morally vacuous sons and daughters of neglectful Hollywood royalty in the cocaine-addled 1980s. I loved it, man. It feels like an important book, and that Ellis was only 19 when he wrote it makes it at once more impressive (because the writing is so confident) and more authentically disturbing (because no matter how much Ellis protests that his shit isn't autobiographical, let's look at the facts: Ellis wrote this book as a teenager from L.A going to college on the east coast; the book is about a teenager from L.A. home from college on the east coast; and even if nothing that happens in the book specifically happened to him in real life, he was clearly doing what teachers tell you to do—he was writing what he knew. And what he knew wasn't pretty). So yeah, five stars; here's a few reasons why I'm all about this shit:

It's viscerally effective. The vignette structure and clipped prose style propel the book along in a speedy, disorienting haze that mirrors protagonist Clay's fucked mental state. It moves, and if you wanted to just read this book in one quick burst of a sitting without really thinking about it at all you would probably still have a worthwhile experience. Like I said, visceral.

It's majorly evocative of time and place. I'm sure you've heard that thing James Joyce said about how if Dublin burned down it could be rebuilt based on Ulysses. Well, if the dream architects from Inception wanted to recreate 1980s Los Angeles they would need a copy of Less Than Zero to use as a reference guide. I haven't felt so immersed in the '80s since I watched Earth Girls Are Easy, or so L.A.-ified since I read Chandler. So many references to Tab, Betamax, MTV and (of course) cocaine—and that's just what's on the surface.

It's deceptively complex. There are interesting questions of form here. The novel is in the first person, but Clay's narration subverts our expectations about first-person narration, in that his flashes of introspection are few and far between; we know very little of his inner life (and we learn jackshit about other characters' inner lives). Instead, Clay's narration provides a just-the-facts-ma'am account of events that in a healthy person would provoke some kind of emotional reaction. On top of that is a fascinatingly discordant effect: we can tell that Clay is desperately miserable because it's reflected in the actions he relates, but he doesn't give us access to the thoughts and emotions by which we would typically understand his misery. By leaving this question mark, Ellis heroically refuses to supply facile answers about What's Wrong With The Kids These Days, letting us draw our own conclusions. Perhaps only a writer as young as Ellis was at the time could have been smart enough to do it this way. If he'd tried to fill in the blanks, to offer even the most poetic of explanations, the book would've been sunk by smarmy self-importance.

Underlying the horror is both a strain of dark humor and a stream of unexpectedly lovely grace notes. This is an effect I associate specifically with the films of Harmony Korine—finding beauty in even the ugliest human environments. (Korine would be a great choice to adapt Ellis for the screen, though I doubt Harm would be interested in fucking with other people's work. The masked, murderous redneck freaks of Trash Humpers aren't so very different from Ellis' fucked-up Angeleno nihilists.) In Less Than Zero some of those grace notes can be found in the italicized interstitials recalling Clay's antediluvian trip to visit his grandparents; some are found in Ellis' physical descriptions of the L.A. landscape; and some pop up amidst the soulless anti-hedonism that makes up the bulk of the novel's action. As for humor, you have to squint a little bit to see it, but check out those scenes of Clay talking to his awful therapist, who just wants Clay to help him with his screenplay. Or the back-and-forth, gossipy inanities that some characters sling at each other about who slept with who, or the frequent refrain stating or asking if somebody O.D.'d. Hell, most of the book is funny if you look at it from a certain angle. And from a different angle it's a despairing tragedy.

In the years since this novel was published I think the moneyed youth of America has gotten even more horrible, or at least equally horrible in different ways. Gary Shteyngart sort of tried to write about this in Super Sad True Love Story, but he failed. My generation needs its Bret Easton Ellis. And I need to read the rest of this guy's stuff.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,191 reviews1,820 followers
March 5, 2022

Mi chiedo quando è stato che noi lettori – o, almeno io, e qualcun altro – abbiamo avuto bisogno che chi scriveva i libri che leggevamo chiamasse le cose col proprio nome. Che poi, spesso, quasi sempre da allora, significa: con le etichette. Che ci dicesse esattamente, scrivendolo, che musica ascoltava, quali band e album, e quali brani lo smuovevano dentro, che vestiti scegliesse, quali scarpe, vini, whiskey, palline da tennis…
E di sentir parlare i personaggi sulle pagine come si parlava per strada, o al bar, o in discoteca.
E se non eravamo noi a parlare in quel modo, lo erano i nostri amici.

Riconoscersi. Parteggiare. Identificarsi…
Mai stato il modo giusto di leggere. Quello per capire cosa si stava leggendo. Ancora meno per valutarlo, esprimere giudizio.
Eppure quel confine a un certo punto s’è oltrepassato.
E prima, a lungo, c’eravamo tenuti dentro il bisogno di raggiungerlo, e andare oltre.
Ma dove è cominciato, chi è stato il primo…?

Mi è difficile rispondere.
Ma mi viene da mettere questo Less Than Zero in buona posizione iniziale.
Tra l’altro, titolo azzeccatissimo.
Ovviamente, ripreso da un brano musicale (di Elvis Costello).
Naturalmente, è seguito film.
Naturalmente, il protagonista del film (Robert Downey jr) è finito – o veniva già – da situazioni e storie simili a quelle del romanzo.
E tutti gli sbrodolamenti italici (italioti?) sul minimalismo, di BEE & Co. E sul minimalismo in genere, quando a me questo suo esordio suona invece alquanto massimalista.

La scrittura sembra minima, un po’ come per molti l’arte contemporanea (del tipo: “quella roba lì sarebbe capace di farla anche mio figlio di sette anni”). Ma ovviamente così non è: oggettiva, fredda, distante, emotivamente indifferente, martellante nel suo tempo presente, racconta un mondo che mette paura come un film distopico post-apocalittico, ma è invece presente reale tangibile. Un mondo di giovani, belli, magri, ricchi, la generazione MTV che beve TAB, la cocacola meno-di-zero. Generazione under che si rispecchia in quella over: gli adulti non sono certo meglio dei loro figli.

Esordio bomba: BEE aveva ventuno anni, scriveva almeno da quando ne aveva diciotto, baciato subito dal successo. Che diventò pazzesco con Le regole dell’attrazione e ancora di più, a dismisura, con America Psycho. per molti la domanda è: s’è perso per eccesso di successo arrivato troppo presto, o per polverine varie descritte come se fossero esperienza diretta e personale?

In seguito, BEE è tornato su quei personaggi con una specie di sequel di questa storia (Imperial Bedrooms).
In seguito, BEE è tornato a spremere le storie che scriveva prima dell’esordio.
In seguito, BEE è diventato Mr Tweet. Qualcosa tipo Bret “Twitter” Easton Ellis. E sono perlopiù tweet acidi.
In seguito, BEE ha detto in un’intervista:
Non avrei mai scritto ‘Meno di zero’ se mio padre non avesse fatto tutti quei soldi. Sono finito nelle scuole private, ho incontrato tutti i ragazzini ricchi di Hollywood. Sì, è tutto venuto fuori dai soldi di mio padre. Poi il college, un posto molto interessante, dove metà erano poveri molto intelligenti con borse di studio, e l’altra metà miliardari. Ho sempre scritto tanto, fin da piccolo: fumetti, diari, racconti. Però la prima cosa vera è stata Meno di zero, ragazzini che fingono di essere adulti ai party a Beverly Hills, diciottenni che vanno al ristorante. Entrare in discoteca anche se minorenni, avere i genitori fuori città, con le grandi case libere…

Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
411 reviews2,224 followers
May 10, 2017
Unloved rich kids in 80s L.A. desperately try to feel something. It's depressing and disheartening, but worth it if you can stomach the apathy and hedonism. It's pretty awful at times (the events of the book).
Profile Image for donkeymolar .
31 reviews62 followers
July 18, 2008
Rich kids doing drugs. Ugh.
Actually, my view of this book was kind of distorted by this man I used to work with at this coffee shop.
He was a huge fan if this author. And he was also a writer himself (published in Hustler!). He was in his 40's and still trying to break out. He had a son that was autistic and had tons of medical bills but because he still wanted to be a struggling artist his family had to suffer.
So, he gives me the manuscript of one of his books (that was rejected by several publishers because, as he stated, "It was too cutting edge").
It was is a super bad version of less that zero but really really raunchy and dirty and goobity gobbledy goo.

He was also always quoting Dante's Inferno, but he only knew one line about all ye who enter here or whatever.
And he would always come into work an hour early and work off the clock so he could have everything already done before his shift started. It pissed me off so I started to make sure everything was done before he got there so he had nothing to do for an hour before his shift began.
Sure, it created extra work for me but the satisfaction was worth it. That showed him.
Once, I was taking out the trash and he comes up and grabs it out of my hands and I was infuriated. I know he was just trying to be a gentleman or some shit but I ran after him and snatched it back out of his hands and snarled "I can take my own damn trash out!"
He would also refer to all our cups in Starbuck's sizes (tall, grande, and something else) and that pissed me off because we didnt work at Starbucks!
He also thought this chick that we worked with was "deep"
because she said she liked some classic author.
And the girl was a fucking moron. Trust me, if anyone was fucking deep in that coffee shop it was ME. And that is not saying a whole lot. She would talk in this cartoon voice all day long and I wanted to stab her. There is nothing worse that having to spend an 8 hour shift with another adult that talks in a baby voice on purpose.
I think she even believed in "God".
And he also bragged that his daughter memorized the letter from Hannibal Lector wrote to Clarice in 'Silence of the Lambs'. or whatever.
We also had a chat about how everyone has an little OCD.
His was coming to work an hour early and many other things.
And I was all like "I never do anything regularly, I hate repetition."
And he was all like, "That's your OCD, you are obsessed with irregularity!" (true, but not when it comes to bowel movements)
And he kind of convinced me that everyone in Hudson, Ohio is on drugs and screwing one another (fact).

So of course, I read his book thing aloud to the rest of our co-workers and we had a good hearty laugh, the kind that makes your face turn red and your upper lip sweat.

I really regret not making a copy of that manuscript.

P.S. I know it doesnt need to be said, but Robert Downey Jr. was really hot in that movie. I also kind of had a thing for James Spader. But not now, because he's kinda fat.
(Who am I kidding? I would still hit that.)

P.P.S. You know what, Im not really sure I even read this book, or if I just think I did. Memory is deceiving.
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,740 followers
September 28, 2016
This novel irritated me but at the same time I couldn’t take my hands off it. I so clearly recognized the hardened apathy reflected in the eyes of Clay. He is a young man immobile, paralyzed by indecision, slowly rotting as he waits for whatever doom comes his way. His problem is not that he doesn’t know what he wants, but rather the ability to want has been lost in him. His circumstances, which usually is being driven by the person, is rather moving of its own accord, and he is aboard not steering but watching indifferently as his fate is sealed without any resistance from him which could have prevented the crash he might be moving towards. It is a disease, this disregard, and it is terminal. He is alienated from himself, locked inside a wall of nothingness, and thus also unreachable to those around him. He is resigned to his life, a third person looking at his own body unconcerned with its wellbeing, going with the flow, only a voyeuristic sort of fulfillment in his gut. And as the days go by, he is disappearing more and more until the day that nothing remains and his invisibility is deemed permanent.

Less Than Zero is the story of a university student who comes home and discovers that there never was such a thing as a home for him. Clay was born of a rich family in Los Angeles. His grandparents own hotel chains, his father is a big shot in Hollywood, he lives in a mansion in Beverly Hills, all his friends are high society people. It is apparent that he was raised in an environment that fostered dysfunction, an environment so enamored by its own wealth and glamor that it kills off any other function it has to offer. And so fresh off his freshman year from the relatively quiet place of New Hampshire, he goes home for summer vacation to kill time until classes start. Uncertain that there is anything else to do he goes on a psychedelic romp and engages in all sorts of debaucheries from snorting cocaine by the minute, gender indifferent acts of sexual deprivation, not to mention other sort of drugs, liquor, and all the twisted novelties Hollywood has to offer, moving from party to party in search for some unreachable form of satisfaction. He goes through all this in a kind of painful stupor trying to feel something, anything while balancing his rocky relationship with his girlfriend Blair, and trying to make sense of his best friend Julian. Amidst all that is happening there lingers a dreadful clarity, a soberness that can only be found as one dwells in the most chaotic of places, like a man in the middle of a bacchanal, realizing that he feels awful.

A lot of people will read this novel and hate it. A few, however, will sense an unsettling familiarity in its hollow pages. There needs to be a certain disposition for someone to truly appreciate this novel, a disposition so readily seen in the addled millennial. Those who can understand Clay when he says "Nothing. Nothing makes me happy. I like nothing." Because as a book, this is infected with the same disease that Clay is suffering from, an emptiness seeping away the lifeblood of its unfocused words. This novel doesn’t know what it wants. It reminds me of a certain passage from its body that goes:

“But this road doesn't go anywhere,” I told him.
“That doesn't matter.”
“What does?” I asked, after a little while.
“Just that we're on it, dude,” he said.”

There is no other purpose to this story. It moves resigned to its writing with no higher aim or message. Ellis, then a 21 year-old, writes his work and in his prose he injects a virus that permeates an enigmatic lifelessness, a wayward languor that eats away the vital soul.

In the end, in order to not feel depressed, I shall borrow a line from Yukio Mishima, something I read I few days ago that pierced me deeply.

“I dream of a moment when, without my asking, my actions will betray completely this part of me that asks for nothing.”

Maybe Clay, in one of his reveries, had this thought. Maybe you’ve had it too. Maybe then it’s not too late for us.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,587 reviews2,809 followers
January 11, 2023
Bret Easton Ellis lays the groundwork for the discussions of "surface aesthetics" in literature: Contrary to the reigning attitude of the dominant literary elite in the 60's and 70's, he relentlessly focuses on surfaces, insisting that they are, in fact, deep. Everybody in his debut novel is blond, tan, rich, and on drugs, even male prostitutes drive Ferraris. The soma (hello, Brave New World) that 18-year-old protagonist / narrator Clay and his, ähem, "friends" use has different forms, but much like in Huxley's novel, it's mainly there to numb the senses to the real world where violence has become the new sex.

Clay has returned to L.A. for his winter break from college in New Hampshire. It's the mid-80's, Clay tries to re-connect with the people he knows, tumbles from party to party and searches for his old friend Julian, whom he finds after some one-night stands with men and women and doing lots, and I mean LOTS of cocaine - only to join Julian in a quest to see the worst of the worst. The title of the novel is taken from an Elvis Costello song of the same name, Clay has a poster of the singer on his bedroom wall (as does a character named Bret Easton Ellis in The Shards).

The most prominent feature of Clay is his apathy: When he sees things that he identifies as morally wrong, he either stands by or leaves, he never acts. His life is a repetition of expensive nothingness, which is mirrored in the language, most prominently in the famous sentences of "disappear here", "is he for sale" and "people are afrid to merge" that are repeated again and again throughout the book. The cold, detached language develops a strong pull, mainly because there is almost no emotional judgement, as Clay explicitly declares that he avoids caring about anything to shelter himself. And while the whole thing reads like an over-the-top, cheeky satire to me, it's apparently rooted in Ellis' own experiences, a statement corroborated by some other people who have lived through it.

It's pretty fascinating that this novel inspired a whole genre in German-language writing, pop literature: The book and Ellis feature prominently in Stuckrad-Barre's memoir Panikherz, Kracht's first award-winning reportage was titled after it and his debut novel Faserland inspired by it, and the art project Tristesse Royale. Das popkulturelle Quintett pushed Ellis' recipe for triggering morally upright citizens to its limits.

Is there a moral core in all of this? Ellis and pop literature writers refrain from answering this question unambiguously and direct it back to the audience. This is a postmodern playground that remixes music, culture, and sociology. People who want their writing to send a clear message that is easy to stomach and agree with will hate this. But it's not like Ellis wants these readers, they can disappear elsewhere.
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
940 reviews13.9k followers
December 22, 2018
TW: drug abuse, pedophilia

The person who recommended this to me cited it as her favorite book of all time, but she had read it for a class, so I think we had different experiences with it. This book is steeped in melancholy and nihilism, which I typically enjoy, but the format and emotionlessness of this often made it difficult to read, so it took me over a month to complete. Still, I enjoyed its themes and totally understand why my friend connected with it so much. I'm jealous that she got to discuss it in a class because I think I would have gotten more out of it that I didn't even realize. This is one of those books that looks simple on the surface but is packed with so much meaning and intricately laced themes. It's definitely not for the lighthearted, though.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
793 reviews19 followers
January 13, 2011
Books of this nature age well with me. I keep thinking about what happened, what Ellis might have meant. I find it fascinating what people walk away with from this and American Psycho. It seems rather obvious to me that this book is not just about spoiled rich drug addicts wasting away while taking some of their world with them. The characters' actions, more specifically their lack of action, says so much for the state of the times in this book, for LA, for American culture, all of which I find maybe even more relevant today.

The fact that people can walk away from this book thinking it is only about drugs, that they "did not get it", or they thought it pointless, just makes me sad. Ellis is an extremely talented writer. His writing is deceptive and layered. The best way for me to convey why I so far love his books is to relate what I think when I read them. I wonder what his characters say about me, why I am able to relate and what my reactions to what happens reflect about me. About LA (a place I hope never to return to) and other such cities, with sterile environments and filthy underbellies, places where people come together to consume and waste. About the indifference of youth and American culture. About relationships and detatchment, self abuse and self worth, vanity and denial. What Ellis writes feels real, no matter how awful or horrific. That is truly frightening.

This book is especially disturbing to me because the youth protrayed are now everywhere, no longer only the rich or confined to the cities. Indifference spreads with each generation.

The main character has zero emotional attachments to his world, his family and friends. He has desensitized himself into acceptance. When he faces things in the book that shock or bother him, his true self shines through.

Three scenes really shocked me and that is all I will say about that since I did not see them coming at all.

Some of the most disturbing parts of this book are simple comments made by Clay's family. Family should protect and it is little wonder how Clay started on his current path. Clay and his friends are at that age when they are becoming adults and are now responsible for their actions more than ever before. I am a firm believer that people instinctively know basic rights from wrongs and when a youth becomes an adult and chooses a knowing wrong, then they may be close to evil. Ellis' characters choose evil and let the guilt run off instead of settling in.

I think the book tried a little too hard towards the end but it worked so I bumped 4 stars to 5 stars. The typical use of brand names, music, and posh scenes, cities and clubs and film and music, all shine through as in American Psycho, though maybe not as strong here . This is an incredibly sad book about, as one character describes, a beautiful boy who makes no effort, and though I am having problems writing coherently, summing up my thoughts and reactions in an organized manner, I know I could ramble all night about this book and still be slightly confused as to why I like it so much.
Profile Image for Pedro.
197 reviews430 followers
November 4, 2019
I read this book with the constant eerie feeling that I was reading someone else’s diary. I wanted to stop but couldn’t! And trust me, this was proper scary stuff.

How simple it is to stop caring or not to be afraid to lose if you think there’s actually nothing left to lose. How easy it is to think you can replace affection with a credit card. How so much easier it is to let yourself go when you’re young enough to think you’re going to live forever.

There’s a reason why this book became a bestseller and a classic, and there’s also a reason why a lot of readers would put it aside and claim that “Nah, this is not literature” or “Wtf, nothing really happens in this story”. Fair enough. We all are allowed to have our opinions and it’s good to have one of your own, but believe me, all aspects of human life are here between these pages. You’ll just have to want to see it. You can’t look away.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
463 reviews303 followers
September 24, 2017
Reading this book is almost a painful exercise. Everyone is drugged up, f*@$ed up and nobody cares about anything other than getting high and wasted. Everyone is literally sleeping with everyone. Many meaningless sexual encounters where morals are left by the highway. The 80's were really about living the excess lifestyle and no place more than L.A where this book centres around. The book is one painfully awful situation after another, a lot of aimless wanderings, with lots of bad pointless dialogue. Nihilistic youths with too much money, too much time and hormones is always a cocktail for unhealthy choices. Despite the seeming negatives I didn't completely hate this book, if that was it's intention to shock and display the vulgarities and vapidness of youth of the 80's then this delivers it's purpose.
Profile Image for Trin.
1,840 reviews565 followers
December 2, 2016
Another empty novel about emptiness, oh joy! I read this because friends were always like, “You’ve never read Bret Easton Ellis? Whaaaaat?” But now I have and we never have to talk about it again. Yay.
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,540 reviews12.9k followers
April 13, 2017
A young student called Clay returns to Los Angeles for Christmas break to see friends and family. His visit reads something like this: “We’re rich kids in LA! Let’s do drugs and have sex – we’re soooo hedonistic and transgressive! Ooo, let’s have sex again and do MORE drugs!” Repeat for 200 pages and you��ve got Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero!

Ellis can write really well so it’s a shame he doesn’t really have anything to say besides: rich LA brats are aimless, lost youth, their parents are drugged-out zombies, and LA culture is surface-level garbage and miserable. Ok – and? He just goes round and round repeating the same blasé party scenes over and over to underline this unimpressive point.

All of the vapid one-dimensional “characters” sound the same which might either be a lack of skill on Ellis’ part (he was 21 when this was published) or deliberate to emphasise their lack of character and superficiality. Either way, it doesn’t add up to a very interesting read. At no point did I care about any of them or their depressing lives.

It also feels like Ellis is trying too hard to shock. One melodramatic scene focuses on a girl injecting heroin, there’s a male prostitute working off his debt to a scuzzy dealer/pimp, a young teen girl is gang-raped, and everyone’s doing blow all the time. The shock shtick is all this novel has: it’s morbidly interesting but completely without substance and pointless. The same critique could be made of American Psycho but Less Than Zero isn’t as boring. It might’ve worked on ‘80s/early ‘90s audiences but Ellis’ shock tactics read today as really lame and try-hard, like a sad old edgelord’s scribblings.

I like Ellis’ writing but mostly for his later books like The Informers, Imperial Bedrooms and, easily my favourite, Lunar Park. His early books like Less Than Zero and American Psycho feel like a writer with enormous talent distracted with being edgy and cool – a one-note author repeating himself ad infinitum rather than one who knows how to develop a theme more roundly and compellingly. But I suppose a lot of that has to do with him being in his twenties when he wrote these too. I highly recommend checking out Lunar Park instead of the dated and tedious Less Than Zero.
Profile Image for Ria.
452 reviews64 followers
January 24, 2020
‘’If the book is an existential satire, its actual premise is that the world is hell disguised as paradise.’’- Ottessa Moshfegh

‘’You’re a beautiful boy and that’s all that matters.’’
Cruelty, depravity, exploitation, hopelessness…

Okay soooo I read the sequel Imperial Bedrooms last year because it was 2€ and I didn’t know it was a sequel. I will probably reread it when finals are over. I read it at 1am while watching Blackmail Boy (Οξυγόνο) and because it’s less than 200pages long I finished it, went to bed and now I’m attempting to write a review… side note, I prefer the movie. They are completely different tho.
Wanna come over to chill and watch a snuff film? Let’s binge watch Guinea Pig.

‘’You did it yourself.’’
Everyone is selfish, apathetic, fucked up and disgusting. Truly deplorable people but they are not written in a way that makes you care about them/empathize with them. For example, the characters in Always Sunny are the fucking worst but you care. Here you just watch privileged kids in LA doing drugs and getting away with everything.
LA is a wasteland, a factory of illusions. The world is an ugly place. Try to stay away from drugs tho. They can fuck you up.

‘’You look pale.’’
Story of my life.
Profile Image for Janie.
1,076 reviews
March 6, 2023
Since it has been many years since I first read Less Than Zero, my memory leaves a lot to be desired. But one line I clearly remember contains the words "I want to see the worst." Yeah, me too. Did this book ever shock me, though? With its blase and soulless young characters and their callous "adventures?" I don't think so. I've been reading unorthodox literature since I was in my double digits (less than twenty).

I dug Brett Easton Ellis' work when I was in my twenties, and I still enjoy it equally as much in my (**grumblestuttermutter**)ies. Thank goodness my memory makes old books new again. Disappear here.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,483 followers
April 10, 2015
The defense I see most often of Ellis is: "You just don't get the joke." And could there be a more annoying defense? How can you even respond to that? It's meaningless.

And it's not a joke. It's satire; that's totally different.

I spent tonight arguing about Ellis with some very smart contrarians, and here's what they said: Ellis has captured the soulless Me First Generation, and their failure to connect with life, in a really effective way. He refuses his rival David Foster Wallace's edict that literature has to solve something; he insists, with merciless implacability, on simply showing it to you. No solutions, no conclusions.

They're right, and that's not valueless. Ellis has achieved something. I actually know these people - not Ellis' caricatures of them, but the real people - and I see what he's describing.

The only problem is here's the first sentence of this book: "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles." This is a metaphor, I happen to know because I was an English major, and it's fucking stupid. And it's his big theme! This! People are afraid to merge! Like he's discovered some grand truth! He'll return to it like fifty times! Ellis isn't our generation's Henry Miller - he's EM Forster.

So. It's not a useless book. It's a decent satire of shallow pop culture sociopathy. Like Wallace, Ellis is concerned with connection: he wants us to engage with life. (To "merge," even!) Unlike Wallace, he refuses to make helpful suggestions; if you're irritated by Wallace's desperately wide-eyed sincerity, Ellis might speak to you.

But for fuck's sake, it is all awfully tedious.
Profile Image for Scott.
1,797 reviews128 followers
July 6, 2023
"Rip glances at me and says, 'Jesus, dude. You look really bad. What's wrong? You want some coke?'" -- on page 185 (although arguably this line could've been on EVERY page of the book)

Even 35+ years later I can recall the flashy TV commercials for the 1987 film adaptation of author Ellis' Less Than Zero -- a dizzying montage of dramatic scenes (featuring then little-known performers like Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader - oh, how the times have changed!) scored to the pulsating tempo of the Bangles' pounding cover of Simon & Garfunkel's 'Hazy Shade of Winter.' However, the book's style is the opposite side of the coin from said advertisements - it is a slow-moving dirge of a barely-there story about unhappy and upper-crust Beverly Hills teenagers stuck in some sort of extended hyper-adolescence. (Yes, another one of those 'pretty people with problems' narratives.) Protagonist Clay returns home to the family mansion for Christmas break after his first semester at college in New England and . . . nothing much else really happens in a dramatic sense. He attends countless liquor- and cigarette-fueled parties, scores drugs, and then watches as so-called friends and acquaintances make bad choices as he stubbornly remains a passive character to the point of being comatose. Some truly disgusting plot devices such as child pornography and sex-trafficking / forced prostitution - introduced in the final forty or so pages - certainly don't help to make the sad storyline any better. The one compliment I can give to Ellis is that he is a descriptive writer and can describe the setting of a scene with a certain style and ease, but otherwise Less Than Zero probably seemed more shocking or groundbreaking during its 1985 debut than it does in the 21st century.
Profile Image for Joe.
51 reviews6 followers
June 10, 2007
One question before we start, "Anthracite?"

Less than Zero is a meditation on the soul-less, physically obsessed world that was born in the 1980s. Yes, perhaps the pedulum has swung to and fro since the publication, but I find the relevance striking to today's pop-culture aesthetic. If Easton Ellis was writing this story today, which his website says he is working on a sequel!?! TECHNOLOGY would or will seperate the characters even more. The Internet is the most convenient place at this time to "Disappear here." One could deconstruct the novel in how we look at Web 2.0; people afraid to merge, full of amoral pornography, hollow identities easily maintained. Look at any comment list on mySpace.com, it would read exactly like any conversation in Less than Zero! Even the title comes from an Elvis Costello lyric where he also sings, "Let's talk about the future, now we've put the past away."

Like Sarah mentioned at the book club, Easton Ellis doesn't blatantly show Clay making the last step into (I guess) "empathetic-human-mode." But somehow I would like to think that Clay has moved on, after he left. So matter-of-factly, he didn't disappear.

I absolutely adored this book because it made me think, and that is possibly the best reason to like a book. It made me explore new avenues, and it made me realize that I also need to stop and smell the flowers once in a while.

Profile Image for The Bibliophagist.
192 reviews59 followers
December 23, 2015
I would give this book Less Than Zero stars if I could.

I picked up this book for multiple reasons. But the main reason was because it was in the bargain bin at Books-A-Million for $5.97. Mr. Ellis was my age when this book was published, so I thought I’d get great insight on troubled young adults against the back drop of Los Angeles, but instead I got a bunch of obnoxious teenagers with drug problems.

Here's what's wrong:

Writing Style
One of the main issues I had with this book was the writing style. The writing was cringe-worthy at best, and downright atrocious the rest of the time. I literally felt like I was reading a story written by a fourth grader. A fourth grader with an obsession of drugs and alcohol, but a fourth grader nonetheless. 80% of this book was telling, not showing. The scenes were never fleshed out, every other paragraph was a new scene, jumping from place to place. Not only that, the sentences were all run-ons! I think one page (or at least most of it) was an entire sentence! And when Mr. Ellis finally did decide to start a new sentence, it was always with “And.” And and and.

Also, there were so many characters in the book. Almost too many to keep up with. Clay, Spin, Trent, Blair, Jared, Julian, Rip, Daniel, Finn, Kim, Muriel – just the ones off the top of my head. This wouldn't be issue if these characters were well developed, but since all were basically just given was a name, it was just hard to follow. Another fun fact is that we’re told any character descriptions. Not even a little detail like hair or eye color. They were all just names on a page.

(“Overall, I was pretty shocked. It was pretty good writing for someone who was 19. I was pretty surprised by the level of writing." – Mr. Ellis after reading Less Than Zero 20 years later.

Are you kidding me, Mr. Ellis? I would be horrified if I wrote and published this! I thought time would change you, make you realize the error of your ways!)

The narrator
Another issue I had with this book was our main character, Clay. Clay was devoid of any emotion or feeling. He simply existed. Telling us his story in the blandest way possible. We never got into his head or his heart. Having a character so detached from his own story was entirely draining to read about. Mr. Ellis could have delved into Clay’s sexuality and his family, but instead he just skimmed the surface. We were never given any insight to the characters. We had no reasoning for what drove them or why the behaved like they did.

There's no plotline...
There was no substance to this book. No plot. I kept waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever did. There was no goal set for our character, no reason for me to root for him. I just don’t see how an entire story could have absolutely no direction.


I had to force myself to finish this “novel” because of the bland characters, awful writing, and lack of plot. If you like whiny books about self-absorbed rich kids, then look no further. I could see how this book would get published in the eighties (just mention coke and sex enough and it’s iconic), but nowadays I just don’t see the appeal. The shock factor wears off twenty pages in.

I get it, the rich kids of LA are spoiled, shallow addicts. Moving on.
Profile Image for Sean Wilson.
192 reviews
April 2, 2020
Disappear here...

In modern times, it’s hard to imagine a better published first novel than Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, published in 1985, when the writer was just 21. The tender age didn’t seem to bother Ellis as he effortlessly deconstructs the youth of his generation in Los Angeles. It’s cold, nihilistic, raw and driven by emotionless desires. It’s this detachedness that gives power to Bret Easton Ellis’ minimalist prose.

Tightly controlled, the novel follows the narrator, Clay, an eighteen year old returning to L.A. for Christmas and his drug-fuelled lifestyle and boring existence. But is the novel boring? Far from it. Less Than Zero depicts a young generation that is as true today as it was when released in the eighties. These young adults are morally empty, reckless, uncaring, devoid of emotion and bored by the constraints of societal ethics. Its realism is prevalent in the narrator’s detachment from the world, a detachment we all recognise, understand and relate to, but never on a conscious level; and in novel after novel Ellis paints this bleakly truthful picture of society addicted to blandness and materialism, hopelessly detached from the beautiful world around them.* We see these people all around us, and Bret Easton Ellis is simply showing the reader.

A lonely, oppressive and disturbing atmosphere of truthfulness dominates the novel, even in the simplest scenes, and simply doesn’t let go until the last page. Less Than Zero is a beautifully controlled and impressive first novel from a brilliant observer and satirist of the Western world.

* — Cognitive dissonance perhaps?
Profile Image for Tim Orfanos.
345 reviews36 followers
December 3, 2018
Ο Ellis χρησιμοποιεί αυτοβιογραφικά στοιχεία και γράφει ένα από τα πιο σκληρά και, ενδεχομένως, σοκαριστικά μυθιστορήματα για την γενιά των '80ς αποδομώντας την κουλτούρα των 'γιάπις', το 'Αμερικάνικο Όνειρο', αλλά και το μόττο 'Πατρίς, Θρησκεία, Οικογένεια', το οποίο εξέφραζε ένα μεγάλο μέρος της δεκαετίας.

Όλοι οι ήρωες είναι δέσμιοι του αχαλίνωτου clubbing, του ευκαιριακού σεξ, της 'εύκολης΄χρήσης ναρκωτικών, αλλά καί της διαστροφής και της κραιπάλης σε όλα τα επίπεδα.

Πολλοί αναγνώστες θα αναρωτηθούν αν ο Έλλις είναι ο αντίστοιχος 'Φράνσις Σκοτ Φιτστζέραλντ' της δεκαετίας του '80, γιατί, συγκρίνοντας τη δεκαετία του '20 με τη δεκαετία του '80, η αλήθεια είναι ότι προκύπτουν κάποιες ομοιότητες, όσον αφορά τις υπερβολές στη διασκέδαση και τις καταχρήσεις με πάντα έκδηλη την εξωστρέφεια στις κοινωνικές σχέσεις, αλλά και την εκκεντρικότητα.

Ναί, τελικά, τότε, για ένα μεγάλο μέρος των ευκατάστατων οικογενειών στα πλούσια προάστια της Καλιφόρνια η ζωή ήταν 'λιγότερο από μηδέν'.

Βαθμολογία: 3,9/5 ή 7,8/10.
Profile Image for Neil Walker.
Author 21 books212 followers
December 3, 2017
Bret Easton Ellis is listed on my author page as of my four biggest influences as a writer, the other three being Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King and William Shakespeare.

In Less Than Zero, he is writing about his favourite time period, the 1980s, and his favourite location, Los Angeles.

The way he captures the mindset of a certain element of society in the 1980s in a particular place and pushes it to it’s logical conclusion is very much something I was trying to emulate in Drug Gang, with my chosen time period being the early 2000s and my chosen location being Manchester.

Less Than Zero is an incredible debut novel and a nihilistic masterpiece.
Profile Image for J.
730 reviews454 followers
December 26, 2013
I've never read Ellis before, and since he published this when he was just 21, I'm not sure if or how to really come to grips with it. The style is obviously super flat, though whether this is because Ellis simply wasn't able to write otherwise at such a young age or if he was just smart enough to realize he's probably too young to try, I can't say. But I found Clay's cool, detached narration to be, if nothing else, fairly engaging. Not revelatory, not brilliant, but interesting enough to keep me reading.

This book is, knowingly or not, basically like throwing acid in the face of Reagan's America. Trust fund brats in the San Fernando Valley with too much money, too much cocaine, too much apathetic sex. They go to cool parties and eat at 3 star restaurants the way other people have to wake up to work the early shift and cut coupons.

The self-rightous midwesterner in me thinks they just need some "structure." The bitter nihilist in me wants to either cheer them on or shoot them in the face. The slacker millenial in me shrugs and suspects that this is probably how it's always been for louche rich kids. Kind of like Public Enemy or early Prince, the transgressive punch this once had is kind of diluted with time, I can imagine a modern middle aged housewife reading this in 2013 and being disgusted, but I can't imagine her being totally caught off guard and utterly horrified like she might have been in the mid 80's. The simple fact is that the rarified world of nihilistic anxiety that Clay occupies is much more widespread in our day and age (come on, who doesn't have HBO, a DVD player and ample access to booze and drugs in 2013?) than it was in 1985, even if the wealth that powers it remains as exclusive as it ever did.

Maybe that means that Bret Easton Ellis, at only 21 years old, basically got it right the first time around and has only become more right about the way we live in the decades since. Maybe this book where people move zombie like from one empty pleasure on to another to another just can't be shocking because what's really shocking, or unrelatable in this book aside from a few moments of casual sexual slavery (and even those, sadly, aren't a huge imaginative stretch)? Whether you "like" Less than Zero or not, it's kind of impossible to deny that it's view of our reality is more widespread and more comprehensible now than it was almost 30 years ago. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Rodrigo.
1,123 reviews469 followers
December 9, 2020
Libro que no es facil de leer, ya que no tiene una estructura determinada, es un continuo pasar de acontecimintos de los amigos del protagonista en california, fiestas drogas prostitucion, snuff movies...etc
Profile Image for Ricky.
163 reviews35 followers
May 1, 2008
Okay, so I was willing to accept this book as a criticism of the emptiness of modern culture. I was willing to overlook the dullness and amateurishness. But it just got duller and duller and duller. And yes, we know American culture is a wasteland. But there has to be a more interesting way to get this across. And if I am to accept this book as metaphor, I'm going to have to disagree with its premise because I think it's cynical to the point of inaccuracy. It was like a Wes Anderson movie: I can only take so much "art" centered around the neuroses of wealthy assholes.

I appreciated the bit about how when the old lady fell down or whatever and all these people outside La Scala attended to her and an ambulance came and nobody inside the restaurant gave it any notice. I thought that worked. And the crazy homeless lady squatting on a sidewalk by the freeway. But, just as I was beginning to appreciate these details a voice in my head reminded me that my time would have been better spent reading stories about those characters.

I'm sure Ellis was being critical of his milieu but much of it comes across as a sort of earnest reveling.

There were a few things I liked here but mostly my response is a mixture or boredom and "barf!"
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,488 reviews2,374 followers
June 17, 2022

This is one of the most disturbing novels about youth that I'll ever read. It is also one of my fave debut novels of all time and, as well as being vastly misunderstood, probably the book that had me devoting more of my time to reading. Bret Easton Ellis totally nails it in his depiction of rich and jaded adolescence consumed by a cocktail of hard drugs, wild sex, and trendy designer clothing. A few of the scenes really were shocking; one in particular I'll never forget, but even more frightening than that, is the level of cynicism these youngsters have embedded in them, making some of the great rebellious youths of film and literature look like they would be perfect for roles in a kids feel-good Broadway musical. The thing is though, these kids aren't really rebels; at least when it comes to rebelling against their parents. if anything, they happily mirror them - narcissistic, vacant souls, blank stares, endless shopping sprees where you don't have to worry about over spending, popping pills like they are sweets, sleeping around. Despite a degree of sensationalism, Less Than Zero is more like an MTV reality documentary, but one which would air long after the sun has gone down due to its content - and even then some of it would have to be edited out. I think its such a cool novel, with a great slick deadpan prose, in the same way I thought that Pulp Fiction was such a fucking cool movie, with one hell of a script. And in the narrator, Clay, here is somebody that well and trully sucked me into his world. I really can't understand all the low ratings for this. Sure, it's not going to dazzle everybody, but there is much to this novel, in my opinion, that makes it a seminal work of the 80s. Not bad for a 21 years old.
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