Bret Easton Ellis
"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there."
I first read American Psycho when I was around fourteen after seeing the excellent film adaptation starring Christian Bale. At the time, while I enjoyed the book I found it difficult to get into and upon completing it, felt that I didn’t really get it.
It was a book I’ve wanted to return to ever since and now, ten years down the line, I have finally done so and I was so very glad I did.
The book is story of Patrick Bateman, a young, handsome Wall street executive and psychopath, who spends his time either in the office, the latest fashionable restaurants and clubs or his lavish apartment where he tortures and murders his countless victims.
The novel is a brilliant satire on the consumerist and yuppie culture of the 1980’s. The violence and sex is extraordinarily graphic, with long pornographic passages that linger over every thrust, every lick, every slice and every cut with excruciating, voyeuristic detail.
Equally pornographic however are passages and chapters in which Patrick describes a stereo or pieces of gym equipment. Consumerism, the need for the best, the most high tech, the most expensive, dominates the book even more than the violence. Even the characters in the book are essentially little more than mannequins, we learn little to nothing about anyone’s personality, because to Bateman, their personalities aren’t important. What is important, is their Armani suits, their Crocodile loafers and $300 Brooks Brothers pocket squares.
It is not a trait exclusive to Bateman however, every character in the novel is so materialistic and self obsessed that the rest of the world becomes blank and unimportant. A running theme of the novel is mistaken identity, every character constantly mistakes the endless stream of yuppies in Armani suits for one another and they are constantly spotting people in restaurants who look like people they know, only to glance over again and realise it is someone completely different. Bateman himself constantly answers to several names as people mistake his identity and on several occasions blatantly admits to his crimes to his friends only to find them reacting glibly, not listening, waiting for their own chance to speak.
We get the impression that everyone in this book is just as obsessive and repulsive as Bateman, the only difference being he takes it one step further.
The writing style of the novel works perfectly for the character. The stream of conscious narrative showcases Bateman’s fragile mindset. As he narrates we find long flowing inner monologues about topics as benign as his morning routine, interrupted by sideways remarks about a girl he has raped or a homeless man he has stabbed to death. These details are brushed off as mere asides as he proceeds on with his monologue.
As the book progresses and Bateman’s mask begins to slip these asides become more and more the focus of the narrative and become increasingly sadistic and pornographic. The increased level of detail coinciding with Bateman’s growing insanity and giving us a clear understanding of his deteriorating mental state.
I think this book is a masterpiece and, while it definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a book I’d definitely recommend you pick up. I think the massive controversy that constantly surrounds the book is misplaced. While the book does contain some of the most disturbing and violent passages I’ve ever come across in a work of fiction, the violence is certainly not the point of the book and I never felt it was glorifying it. It’s extreme, but so is Bateman, and as the narrator, it’s the only way for him to tell the story.
Like I said, the violence isn’t the important part, what’s important is the satire of consumerism and that we understand that Bateman’s psychosis is just an extreme extension of his lust for material possessions. To him, everything, even human life, is just an object to be bought and played with.
Ellis’ book not only works as a satire of the 80’s but of consumerism up to this day, with the themes feeling just as relevant now as they would have felt upon the books publication.
It’s a dark, but wonderful read, that I’d definitely recommend.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have to return some video tapes…