American Psycho

Author: Bret Easton Ellis

Publisher: Picador

Date Published: 1991

Pages: 399

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

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8 Responses to American Psycho

  1. matildagretchen says:

    Fantastic review – I haven’t read it, and had always thought Iwould at some point, but after reading this I’m not so sure! But then aain, I do read a lot of true crime books so maybe I’m a wee bit more de-sensitised to stuff like that.

  2. goldnsilver says:

    I had a look at your book picture on your blog – I think given your love of serial killers it might be a good/interesting read for you.

  3. matildagretchen says:

    Haha! That sounds so wrong goldnsilver – like I’m one of those lasses that writes to the Yorkshire Ripper asking him to marry me! I’m just a nosey cow to be honest, I like to know what others get up to, even if it isn’t the nicest of subject matter hehe!

  4. david says:

    don’t you realize that later in the book ellis reveals that it’s all in bateman’s head–all these murders, rapes, etc were all figments of his imagination?

    • goldnsilver says:

      As far as I could see Ellis gave this theory as a two way street – its up to the audience to decide whether particular scenes were real or imagined. I see it as 70% real, 30% imagined. I think the first half of the murders were real, but near the end (when they became truly gruesome), they were imagined (the famous rat scene comes to mind). There is a particular scene where he is being chased by the cops after shooting a saxaphone player that I thought was definately imagined.

  5. Pingback: Sleepless Travels Reloaded » Blog Archive » American Psycho: Bret Easton Ellis

  6. FWIW, the graphic scenes were as hard for BEE to write as it was for you to read. Those were the last scenes written and BEE based them on CIA case studies of real murderers & rapists.

    • goldnsilver says:

      FWIW, the graphic scenes were as hard for BEE to write as it was for you to read.

      That actually makes me feel I little bit comforted. I write, so I know what its like to go through imagining something and putting it down on paper. It makes me feel a little relieved that he had trouble with it, because I think any normal person would.

      Those were the last scenes written and BEE based them on CIA case studies of real murderers & rapists.

      That’s pretty scary. I wouldn’t have been able to read them.

      Thanks for sharing that info.

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