Shiny Shelf

SHINY ADVENT: Less Than Zero

By Eddie Robson on 20 December 2006

Over the course of Shiny Advent we’ve largely focused on things you could actually watch/read in a day, so we haven’t done any novels yet. However, it is easily possible for even ponderous readers to get through Bret Easton Ellis’ ‘Less Than Zero’ within the time it takes to watch a Harry Potter movie, so in it goes.

The home-for-Christmas novel is a staple of American fiction from ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ to ‘The Corrections’, but few are quite so jarring as ‘Less Than Zero’. It’s set in Los Angeles and characters are often noted as wearing sunglasses and driving convertibles. Although central character Clay is back from college to stay with his family, they are totally disassociated from each other and the novel isn’t especially interested in exploring their relationships. Christmas itself is practically incidental – it’s just the reason why Clay is home.

But this jarring quality suits the novel, because it’s about the strangeness of coming home and realising you’re no longer a part of it. Clay has only been away at college for a few months, but already he realises things have changed – or, at least, he now sees them differently. For most people this is probably little more than a curious experience that doesn’t detract from the pleasure of seeing old friends again, but Ellis dramatises the point by making Clay’s friends a largely appalling and/or pitiable bunch, and it becomes deeply unsettling. Have yourself an empty little Christmas.

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By Eddie Robson

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