American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Picador: paperback published 2011: 384 pages
Patrick Bateman is twenty-six and works on Wall Street; he is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath. Taking us to a head-on collision with America’s greatest dream – and its worst nightmare – American Psycho is a bleak, bitter, black comedy about a world we all recognize but do not wish to confront.
There were moments during reading American Psycho that I felt like hoarsely crying “the horror, the horror”. This is not a read-in-public, read-before-bed, read-whilst-eating-or-drinking book. In fact, only read it when you’re thoroughly prepared for the craziness (and maybe have some form of alcoholic beverage to help you deal). But it’s not the graphic sex/torture/mutilation/murder/rape scenes that will disturb you the most; it’s the fact that you recognise the tiniest bit of Patrick Bateman in yourself. I’m really hoping the psychopathic sexual deviant isn’t the bit you recognise, but that’s a whole other issue. No, the bit I recognised in myself was the almost pathological need for labels. Bateman lists designer clothes and gadgets and shop names and hot-new-restaurants with a compulsive obsession – the need to know what’s “hip”, who is wearing what and how, is something that I can see in myself. And that’s the scariest part.
American Psycho is a dark, stream-of-consciousness novel that reveals the vicious side of the greedy, hedonistic lifestyle of the 80s yuppie. It’s a sharp-tongued look at an America that thrived on people who craved money as status. Nouveau-riche, yuppie, Blairite, call them what you will, every generation has them. But it was only in the 80s that the whirlwind lifestyle of the yuppie really took off. It became desirable to flash-the-cash, be seen in only certain places with only certain people, and culture became about who you knew and what brands you wore. What Bret Easton Ellis does in American Psycho is to take this flashy image of young upwardly-mobile types, and expose it to a darker, nastier and bloodier reality. Bateman logically should be happy – he’s young, rich, and knows the right people. But instead he has a void that can only be filled by increasingly depraved and sickening acts. And it’s these acts that he is most passionate about, and yet he gets no recognition for them.
If you’ve seen the film, you might be prepared a little for what comes in the book, but nothing can prepare you for how you feel when you’re reading it. Sometimes, you’re so horrified and sickened that you have to put the book down and maybe even cry a little, whilst at others intervals, you are as devoid and emotionless as Patrick Bateman (shortly followed by the dawning realisation that you weren’t as bothered as you thought you would be with that scene and then you get the fear that the book is “twisting your mind” and you’re turning into a real Pat Bateman and maybe you should avoid animals for a while).
I was astounded to find out that Bret Easton Ellis claimed that Bateman was at first styled on his father, and then on himself. This – on the surface – could make you worry about the nature of the family. But actually, I think I might know what he means. He means the cold ambition and the ruthlessness at which you take what you want. (Or, at least, I hope that’s what he means).
This book is one of those books that sticks with you – not because you read about gory mutilations, but because there are eerie echoes in reality. Slick businessmen in suits eating lunch in a restaurant (just opened by a famous chef and where so-and-so the famous so-and-so was seen eating last week), brand names splashed across products in provocative colours to make sure that you only buy the Right Brand. Popular music, rock stars, rich people, models, that brand new restaurant that has just opened which is owned by a famous chef and that famous so-and-so was seen eating there last week, iPods, HDTVs, Christian Louboutin shoes, Dior, Chanel, that hairdresser that styles all the models… how many of those things have you seen or aspired to?
If Patrick Bateman was in 2012 Britain or America, what would he aspire to? Probably the same things we all do. He just so happens to be a serial killer on the side. That’s what makes it such a brilliant book, and that’s what makes it a book Everyone Must Read – because it’s a chilling insight to reality.
Rating: 8/10 (I can’t give it any more because it gave me nightmares)
Next book: I was a little undecided about what to read next, as I feel I should hold back on more George R.R Martin. So, I’m leaving the forum open. The first person to pick me a book to read wins!