Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

LessThanZeroI have been wanting to read Less Than Zero for some time as I enjoyed the movie of the same name in my teens and thought it might be a more palatable introduction to Bret Easton Ellis than American Psycho, which is also on my reading list. From what I recall of the film version, it would seem very loosely based on this novel.

From the onset, Less Than Zero makes the reader aware of the wealth and indulgence of its characters, with talk of convertibles, first class flights and maids within the first few pages. The novel is narrated by the central protagonist Clay whose descriptions are that of a somewhat detached observer. Clay, along with his friends and acquaintances, is generally drug addled, self-absorbed and sycophantic. At times the dialogue seems a little grating, however it is indicative of the characters. Ellis also pertinently defines dissatisfying and unhappy relationships, with uncomfortable get-togethers and families who barely know each other. He shows a keen observation of people and life, particularly considering his own youth when he wrote the book.

This novel isn’t for everyone, with strong undercurrents of death, depression and a world changing for the worse, it also includes themes of rape, prostitution and drug use. Los Angeles is the perfect setting for the story, with the city and its inhabitants accepting and encouraging of the behaviours presented. Less Than Zero provides an insightful portrayal of the excess and decadence of the eighties, with many references to the culture of the time, and where parties, drugs, alcohol and sexual encounters are rife. The lifestyles and scenarios depicted throughout the novel are open to reader interpretation and although I think the novel may hold more significance if it is read in your late teens/early twenties, it provides substance and appeal to all ages.

Publisher Synopsis

“In 1985, Bret Easton Ellis shocked, stunned and disturbed with his debut novel, Less Than Zero. Published when he was just twenty-one, this extraordinary and instantly infamous work has done more than simply define a genre, it has become a rare thing: a cult classic and timeless embodiment of the zeitgeist. It continues to be a landmark in the lives of successive generations of readers across the globe.

Filled with relentless drinking in seamy bars and glamorous nightclubs, wild, drug-fuelled parties, and dispassionate sexual encounters, Less Than Zero – narrated by Clay, an eighteen-year-old student returning home to Los Angeles for Christmas – is a fierce coming-of-age story, justifiably celebrated for its unflinching depiction of hedonistic youth, its brutal portrayal of the inexorable consequences of such moral depravity, and its author’s refusal to condone or chastise such behaviour.”

ISBN: 9781447212454

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The Best of Times by Penny Vincenzi

BestOfTimesThe Best of Times is a long book, just shy of 900 pages, which takes a little time to develop given its vast number of central characters, which the author also deemed necessary to provide a list of in the introductory pages of the book.  The characters are all easily recalled and followed however, being interwoven throughout the novel, with the story smoothly shifting between narrators.  Each protagonist is introduced in the days leading up to and following a motorway accident, being the key event of the story which links them all together. The author then primarily explores the platonic and romantic relationships between her subjects.

Vincenzi eloquently defines her characters, all with their differing qualities, faults and idiosyncrasies, alternately lending themselves to the reader’s sympathy, disdain or admiration.  Unfortunately these characters didn’t engross me enough to feel any substantial reaction toward them.  I generally like novels which are told from differing perspectives and bring various characters together and after reading the synopsis for this book I had high hopes, which sadly weren’t quite met.

To me this was a nice, easy read over the start of summer however, which was welcome after solely reading prescribed texts for my study over the past few months. It’s a book which is easy to read in spurts and starts off strong but unfortunately gets a little tedious toward the end, particularly due to a rather foreseeable and saccharine ending.

Publisher Synopsis

“A hot summer’s day. A crowded motorway. A split second that changes everything. Jonathan, the charismatic surgeon returning from a liaison with his mistress, Abi. His wife thinks he’s somewhere else. Georgia, the young actress on her way to audition for the part that could make her career; and Linda, her agent, dynamic, ambitious = but lonely after a failed marriage. Toby, the bridegroom with a dark secret on the way to his wedding, with his best friend Barney. Mary, travelling to the airport to meet her first love, whom she hasn’t seen in over fifty years; William, the farmer who watches the drama unfold across the hill; and Emma, the engaging young surgeon at the nearest hospital. One heartbeat in time, and all their lives are transformed. Worlds are torn apart, mysteries are created, love affairs ended – and ignited. But is it for the worst, or could it be for the best?”

ISBN: 9780755320899