Book review: Less Than Zero

by Todd Foley


Less Than Zero (Vintage Contemporaries)

I hated this book, and I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

Less Than Zero, the debut novel from Bret Easton Ellis, is probably one of the most hopeless, lifeless, plotless stories I have ever read. It’s about a group of rich kids in LA wasting their lives away on drugs, crime and excess. There’s no remorse, no development, no consequences. No one to root for. No one to be redeemed. No judgement or message from the author. No feeling of hope or even a hint of resolution at the end.

And that’s where the horror kicks in: none of the characters seem to care at all. They have nothing to live for, nothing to aim for.

The last time I read a story that was (nearly) this depressing, it was Hubert Selby’s Requiem for a Dream. While that book was incredibly tough to go through, my heart ached for the characters because they all had the best intentions and ambitions and dreams, but they were crushed in their pursuit of those dreams. In Less Than Zero, there are no dreams, no aspirations. Whereas Requiem for a Dream was a cautionary tale about the means used to pursue dreams, Less Than Zero is a brutal showcase of apathy’s effect on the soul.

It takes a talented storyteller to make a lifeless story have such a powerful effect, and Ellis is to be applauded for that – especially as he was only 21 at the time of publication.

I felt sad and empty after reading this book. Maybe that was the author’s goal, to show the lifelessness of a careless life.

Blair: “It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who doesn’t care.”

Clay: “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.”