Author: Bret Easton Ellis
Date Published: 1991
When I bought ‘American Psycho’ it was the only book on the shelf wrapped in plastic – people are not allowed to freely browse the pages in the shop. When it was originally released it was only sold behind the counter and identification had to be shown. I’m not sure why it’s no longer behind the counter. I found myself asking whether this was because the initial sensationalism and controversy is over, or if we are more desensitised now. The Borders guy warned me that it was ‘full on’. Being an idiot I said ‘I’ll be fine, I’ve read about it and know what I’m in for’.
‘American Psycho’ is the infamous story of Patrick Bateman; by outward appearances a handsome, wealthy Wall Street businessman, but in reality a rapist, murderer and psychopath in every sense of the word.
The story follows Bateman’s every day life in acute detail. One chapter of around five pages is entirely dedicated to Bateman’s morning ritual of cleansing, toning and moisturising. Ellis’s knowledge of brand names is incredible as Bateman describes every character by their apparel down to the cuff links. The writing style is continuous and sometimes overwhelming in its inane detail. What is interesting is that Bateman will describe a coat with as much interest as gutting and eating a prostitute. The reader is drenched in the materialistic world of the American 1980s. There is even a bizarre appearance by Tom Cruise – an icon of the culture.
What is also disturbing is that Bateman is exactly the same as all the other characters – with the exemption of murdering people. He has the exact same materialism, cocaine abuse and social cruelty. The trivialness of their lives is ridiculous and many of the chapters focus on ludicrous discussions about restaurants, business cards or the differences in bottled water. There is also a dark humour in watching people ignore Bateman when he says homicidal things and also his frustration at this. His acquaintances are constantly walking a fine line, their unawareness of his ability to murder them at any moment is perversely humorous. You actually start thinking ‘If he is going to kill people anyway, he may as well kill Character A’. I particularly wanted him to kill his girlfriend Evelyn. This aspect was what I most enjoyed about the book, as Ellis paints a bizarre picture of the motions of people who are basically empty non-humans. Manhattan seems like a demented mirror image of real life.
‘American Psycho’ can be extremely hard to read at times, especially in the last third. It is difficult to be absorbed in Bateman’s psyche for any amount of time. This is more due to the emptyness, materialism and lack of empathy, rather than homicidal thoughts. The murder scenes could be so graphic and cruel that I regularly had to put the book down for a couple of days at a time. At one point I even had nightmares and then decided to make a rule not to read it after the sun goes down (lame, but true).
By the end of the book I was forcing myself to continue. I was skipping the murder and torture scenes – they were just far too graphic, disturbed and cruel for me to handle. I have never skipped parts of a book before, I usually consider this failure to take in all the authors intended purpose. But I just couldn’t read them, couldn’t have those images in my head. At times I really hated Bateman for his extreme maliciousness and it can be very hard to read about a character you loathe. It is the first book that has seriously made me doubt the sanity of the author. I usually dislike the idea of authors being judged as personally liking or condoning the content of their books, but Ellis has produced a text which is more extreme than anything I have experienced. How did he actually envision the scenes, let alone write them?
The book has changed my views slightly. I am now suspicious of anyone wearing designer labels (or anyone working in financial related services for that matter). A feeling of cold antisocial behaviour exudes from magazine adds of gorgeous men in Armani. Sadly enough, it has also made me extra weary of trusting strangers. Can you really go back to anyone’s apartment without the chance of them being a ‘Patrick Bateman’? The fact is that psychopaths are real and this book has made me even more scared of the possibility of bumping into them.
It is hard to find a final score for ‘American Psycho’. It is brilliantly written, yet I know that few people could read it. I would not recommend it to anyone who dislikes violence and gore in fiction. People with a weak stomach should definately avoid it, even those who are hardy will truly be tested. At times I had to remind myself that it was a work of fiction to control myself from being upset. I am glad that I have had the ‘American Psycho’ experience, but I know I won’t read the book again. Its brilliance lies in its uniqueness and the incredible manner it was delivered in. It is shocking, horrific and truly pessimistic – but for the avid readers of classics it should not be missed.
♥♥♥♥ – 4/5