The tale is a debauched pendulum swing from descriptions of a teenage party scene to the incomparable recklessness of sickeningly sordid endeavours. Ellis has a magnificent yet chilling method of making you recognise yourself in his narratives by forcing you to experience his character’s emotions via first-person narration. He makes the unimaginable seem mundane and the disgusting seem placid.
Written at the age of 21, Ellis’ first published novel is just as daring and as awe-inspiring as his later work.
The title of any novel is always something to observe. It is a carefully selected phrase that summarises the themes of the tale and ‘Less than Zero’ accomplishes this. The consequential physical and mental effects upon the human existence with little or no direction leaves only the detrimental aftermath to any co-inhabitants to be viewed. Hence leaving his characters value being ‘Less than Zero’.
The novel follows the exploits of Clay, an eighteen-year-old college student home for the summer reuniting with his friends, a similar and relatable basis for any good bildungsroman. However, by rejecting this opportunity for positively developing his protagonist, Ellis instead creates a negative path for him to travel. Within this environment and before too long, Ellis begins shining a light upon the disconcerting and harrowing underbelly of the societal disposition constructed by privileged teens once they are left to their own devices.
With a clear emphasis placed upon the effect of absent parenting, he explores the consequences of the human psyche in a collective group left to influence one another with little or no moral compass. All this makes for fantastic and fast-paced reading that follows a disjointed narration that embodies and demonstrates the effects of frequent drug abuse to a person’s thought patterns. Ellis employs this method to construct a claustrophobic perspective of damning events within the seemingly inescapable paradise of Los Angeles in the 1980s.
Ellis likes to shock his audience and this novel is not one for the feint-hearted. Ellis is very much the marmite of the literary world. I love the taste, but I’ve met others who despise his work. For me, this is the sign of an excellent writer. Being able to provoke an emotive and strong response from any reader, his words have a way of lingering in your mind for days, weeks, years.