#6Degrees from Less than Zero to…

1987 film poster

It is my absolute pleasure to participate once again in the Six Degrees monthly link-up organised by Kate. The starting point this month is a book I haven’t read by that once shining light of the 1980s literary Brat Pack Bret Easton Ellis: Less than Zero. If I didn’t read it at the time, when I was closer in age to the hedonistic youth portrayed in its pages, I don’t think I am likely to read it now (middle-aged sniff of disapproval!).


Another book which describes decadent youth is Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. I have to admit that I wanted to be a flapper of the 1920s when I was growing up, although, like with Mozart’s music, you are always aware in Waugh’s novels of a darker desperation underlying the frenetically cheery and madcap surface.

The other writer associated with the Roaring Twenties is of course F. Scott Fitzgerald and he also captures the sadness underlying the apparent prosperity and carelessness of that period. My favourite of his books was for a long time Tender Is the Night, which also describes a rather madcap party.

Part of the Fitzgerald novel is set on the French Riviera, which is also the setting for Françoise Sagan’s amazing debut novel Bonjour Tristesse, written when she was only 18 and perfectly describing the stubborn, gauche, misguided teenager who tries to act older than her age.


There are plenty of books about disaffected youth and the difficulties of being a teenager, especially nowadays, but for my next choice I go back to an old classic The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, who was herself a teenager when she wrote it. This sad tale of gang life and pointless violence reveals how hard it is for teenagers to figure out right from wrong and how powerless they often are to do anything about it.

Speaking of gangs, there is a little-known book by Ernst Haffner called Jugend auf der Landstrasse Berlin (Blood Brothers, transl. by Michael Hoffman) about Weimar-era teenagers trying to scrape together an existence via the welfare office, pickpocketing and other petty crime.

Berlin is also the setting of a more modern novel Tomorrow Berlin by Oscar Coop-Phane, about the post-1989 youth culture there. A generation full of promiscuity, rave culture and drink, drugs and toilet sex which brings us right back to Brett Easton Ellis subject matter, but perhaps described with more French elegance and nonchalance.

So I have stuck pretty much to youth culture in my little foray through literary links, but tried to keep it international. What links will you be making?

19 thoughts on “#6Degrees from Less than Zero to…”

  1. Trust you to include such interesting books here, Marina Sofia! And you’ve really mixed in well-known ones (like the Fitzgerald) with books that are not as well-known. Not good for my TBR, but interesting!

  2. I’m saving Tender is the Night for one of those dreamy summer holidays when I can soak up in the sun and party like I’m Zelda and we’re in the 1920’s at night!

  3. Had to laugh at your comment that your mature self would be disapproving of all that youthful hedonism. I would quite welcome a chance to be a hedonist but I fear I wouldnt have the stamina now – maybe they let you have an interval mid way through the festivities so us oldies can catch our breath??

  4. You haven’t missed much with Ellis. The least of the three successful novelists to have come from the Bennington class of 1986 (Jonathan Lethem, the best of them, dropped out; I’m not Donna Tartt’s biggest admirer, but it’s pretty easy to be a better writer than Ellis).

    But, then, I found Hinton hard to read through the clumsiness of the prose, as I recall it, when I was ten or so, and never tried again. Might be my loss. (It definitely read to me as a teenager might write a novel.)

  5. Poor old Bret! He’s getting a bad rap in these chains! I haven’t read this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed American Psycho despite the extreme graphic… everything! And I was distinctly middle-aged when I read it… 😉

  6. Love your twenties angle – it’s without doubt my favourite period in history (the architecture, the fashion, the writing). Funny that you included The Outsiders – I was choosing between that and Hotel New Hampshire as my Rob Lowe/ literary link (Hotel won simply because it’s John Irving!).

  7. “Tomorrow Berlin” sounds interesting. So much was written about Germany in the days leading up to the fall of the wall and after. I can’t imagine how it affected the youth who lived through it.

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