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Monday, 30 January 2012

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

This is an odd one to review. Then again, American Psycho is just kind of weird all around. I guess I picked this one up because it's one of those books which is infamous: it's controversial and the reasons for that controversy are pretty well known, but it's still something you have to pick up and read yourself in order to understand. It's been an interesting nine days reading it.

So, I suppose it makes sense to explain what American Psycho is about first, before I go into the weirder stuff. It's narrated by Patrick Bateman, a young successful banker in New York at the end of the 1980s, so basically he's a yuppie. So, as a typical yuppie, his life consists of things like eating out at expensive restaurants, buying designer brands and working out; basically your standard process of keeping up (very expensive) appearances. What makes Patrick different from your average yuppie is that he's a psychopath and kills people. Maybe. That description is pretty much the whole book. The first half is mainly several dinners with work colleagues and one night stands, described in mind-numbing detail and with the occasionally line of absolute psychopathic violence, which everyone summarily ignores or fails to react to. At around the halfway point, we start seeing Patrick killing people in person. Or at least Patrick says he's killed all these people.
You'll notice that I keep saying things like maybe and might, when referring to Patrick's psychopathic tendencies. That's because he is pretty unreliable as a narrator, including details that both prove and disprove the reality of the murders and other crimes he says he commits. And I find that really interesting. While the violence is a big part of the narrative, and the part that most people focus on, I found the psychological aspect of the novel more interesting. The idea that he could be imagining all or part of the novel is somehow utterly fascinating to me: if he is imagining the whole thing, then would that just make him an average guy who retreats into fantasy and drugs in order to cope with the boring reality that is the high-life? He certainly takes enough Xanax and what-not.
But, of course, the thing that everyone comments on is the unusually high level of violence. That's fair enough, as Patrick describes his kills in just as much detail as the various different outfits of his colleagues and the menus of various restaurants. There's so much detail that it's actually rather absurd. Granted, it might start off nauseating, but then it seems to skip merrily over some undefined line after which the violence just seemed silly and over-the-top. Then again, I might just be that desensitized. In any case, I actually found the more mundane offences like the huge amounts of bigotry and the utter shallowness and vapidity of his acquaintances to be the more offensive parts of the novel. Again, that might just be me.

Like I said, this is an odd novel to review. As a whole, I'm glad that I read the novel, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to everyone; it's what you could call an acquired taste. If you're a fan of social commentary in your novels and/or you possess a strong stomach, I would recommend this. If not, then you probably won't like it. 4/5

Next review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Signing off,

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