by Bret Easton Ellis
Category: Fiction / General
399 pages; ISBN: 0-330-31992-2
Rating: 7/10 (Ratings explained)
A bleak and very black satire set in late-80s New York as seen through the eyes of a yuppie who kills people in his spare time.
It seems presumptuous to be reviewing a novel that`s nearly a decade old but as a major Hollywood adaptation is now "in the can" I can at least claim topicality. Ellis`s novel also remains supremely controversial, standing at the far edge of acceptability in mainstream literature.
Although published in 1991 the novel is set in 1989 and one of the chapters is entitled "End of the 1980s" to ram the point home. Like Tom Wolfe before him, Ellis is dissecting the yuppie culture but where the former used a surgical scalpel Ellis swings a machete` around leaving nothing unscathed.
The novel has no real plot to speak of. Its central protagonist Patrick Bateman is not introduced; we are pitched straight into his thoughts and actions over an unspecified period of time. We gradually learn that he is a well-educated W.A.S.P. in his mid-20s whose life revolves around dinner engagements, spending money and from page 131 onwards sadistic murder. With one or two exceptions the other characters are uniformly despicable - heartless self-obsessed loudmouths so preoccupied with keeping up appearances that they fail to recognise Bateman for what he is. Once Bateman has started killing you look forward to them being butchered but there are no such easy options with this novel and most of the victims are the less fortunate recipients of Reaganomics - tramps, prostitutes and immigrants.
It is an uncomfortable read in every sense. Although the gruesome detail of every murder won`t shock anyone who read the likes of James Herbert or Guy N Smith in adolescence it will truly appal anyone who`s confined themselves to serious literature. If that doesn`t get you the sheer volume of brand names and restaurants mentioned, the interchangeable characters, illogical dialogue and Bateman`s stream-of-consciousness prose all combine to deliberately disorientating effect. And few readers under 40 won`t find that some part of Ellis`s vitriol burns a little too close to home whether it`s Bateman`s obsession with his health, his jealousy of more successful contemporaries or his dreadful taste in music (Genesis, Huey Lewis & The News and Whitney Houston, each given a sarcastic appraisal in a separate chapter).
I `ve found observing others` reactions to the book to be a more enjoyable experience than actually reading it. A solicitor friend completely missed the jokes which tells its own story. Try it for yourself.
Buy American Psycho at amazon.co.uk
Buy American Psycho at amazon.com